The news that train operator Abellio will take over the running of the lucrative ScotRail franchise in 2015 sent some shock waves through the UK rail industry when it was announced last month. While controversial, the award of what is the Scottish Government’s biggest contract to a subsidiary of Holland’s nationalised railway service does present an opportunity for a European rail company to experience how services run in the UK. This could be a positive step towards developing better coordination between the continent’s rail operators who, at present, lack a joined up approach.
At Colpitts we are often called upon to manage client logistics for trips involving a number of destinations across Europe which can be hugely challenging.
In the UK, a traveller can book a rail ticket from Thurso to Brighton with ease despite the fact this involves three separate train operating companies. There is just one ticket, one price and one set of conditions. Unfortunately this is not always possible across Europe where historic and cultural barriers still exist between national train companies. France’s SNCF, Belgium Rail, Deutsche Bahn to name but a few do not operate under a unified system. While it is possible to travel with one rail operator on an intercity basis across borders, with the exception of the Europe-wide InterRail pass, there is no common fare and ticketing system that unites the multiple train companies. It is therefore very difficult to make a multi-leg journey on a single purchased ticket.
Part of the problem is that many of the rail companies seem reluctant to divide revenue as would be required to run a unified rail service across Europe. They need to follow the example set by international airlines which overcame similar issues long ago when their industry trade body, the International Air Transport Association, invested in a one stop ticketing system. The result was the creation of the Bank Settlement Plan, an industry accepted method of distributing multi carrier ticket payments between companies.
While companies including the UK’s trainline.com are currently looking at a possible solution, this is a huge and complex task and it could take many years before travellers can expect any form of a solution to emerge. Let’s hope Abellio’s immersion into the Scottish rail market will also aid progress towards this outcome.