Air Transport World

Planes versus Trains: in Europe's battle between airlines and high-speed rail, trains have the edge.(COMPETITION)

LET THERE BE NO DOUBT: EUROPE'S HIGH-SPEED TRAINS are on a mission to increase their competitive clout over their counterparts in the air. Last summer, seven HST operators announced the formal creation of Railteam, a marketing partnership mirroring the well-established airline alliances (see box, p. 42).

Railteam is only one component of a large and well-orchestrated campaign to position intra-Europe high-speed passenger rail as the faster, more reliable, more punctual and greener alternative to short-haul flights. For example, when Eurostar, the HST operator connecting London with Paris and Brussels, opened a new intermediate station between the Channel Tunnel and central London last November, it advertised that Ebbsfleet International would enable it "to compete head-tohead with the South East's airports," which include Heathrow and Gatwick. Eurostar also highlighted that it "offers a punctuality that is superior to airlines and a frequency that matches them."

Guillaume Pepy, chief executive of France's state-owned railway SNCF, which operates the high-speed TGV (Train a Grande Vitesse), and chairman of the Eurostar consortium, is candid: "High-speed rail operators are becoming more proactive in trying to take market share away from short-haul air travel. We think this new European high-speed network [Railteam] will be a true alternative to airline travel." He cites two main reasons: The first is "green travel ... and the second reason is that we think we can be more efficient" than winged competitors.

"I do not mean that the airlines in Europe are not efficient," he hastens to add to ATW. "They are doing the best they can in an environment that is extremely challenging and difficult for them in terms of security, carbon emissions, long queues at airports, irritating baggage restrictions, long traffic jams to go to the airports ..."

He also admits he is taking advantage of these circumstances to grow his footprint. For the SNCF boss, the threshold between airline and HST travel is about 3.5 hr. for the business traveler--"when traveling at 300 km./hr., short-haul is up to 1,000 km."--and up to 6 hr. for the leisure passenger. Not all HSTs, however, run at 300 kph and in Europe high-speed is considered 240 kph on HS tracks and 220 kph on classic ones. …

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