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High-speed rail vs low cost-carriers

Philip Martin

Former Head of Marketing, Amadeus Rail

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Last month there was much buzz around low-cost carriers (as newly formed airline HOP ! An Air France-KLM subsidiary is positioning itself), putting forward a new challenge towards high-speed rail.

Low-cost carriers competing against rail

At the World Aviation Festival, HOP! was represented by Helene Abraham, EVP Commercial. Abraham commented on how the low-cost carrier is planning to compete for the European rail traveller by creating a more hassle-free network, incorporating the hub airports of the three operating airlines which make up HOP!

“One of the biggest competitors in the French market are substitutes; high-speed rail and road. The network must adapt and include destinations not served by rail.” Helene Abraham, HOP!

For example, in France, there are still a lot of non-viable train journeys, which leads to many travel hours and station changes. Travellers can save time and HOP! has seen a huge potential behind this. 

Rail travel vs air travel

Arguments for and against travelling by train/plane are shown at the5-min debate on budget air travel versus railway travel with Gwyn Topham, The Guardian , and Mark Smith,The Man in Seat61 . This debate points out the hassle free need during any travellers journey.

Another example of rail travel vs air travel, this one much closer to home as you may have readin my last blog on my disrupted journey to Yorkshire, and now there seems to be an alternative mode of transport!Leeds Bradford (LBA) returned to British Airways’ route map after three decades, and the carrier now serves it with 27 weekly frequencies:

“The well-timed four flights a day will offer our customers the chance to complete a full day’s business in the capital without the expense or inconvenience of an overnight stay.” James Keegan, Commercial Services Manager UK, British Airways

Competing with a door-to-door rail offer

It might seem risky to compete with a door-to-door travel rail offer, but why choosing air among rail?

  • One way air ticket from LHR to LBA, leaving in 2 days time costs £144 
  • One way rail off-peak ticket costs £154 or £249 to travel any time of the day
  • As we can see, there is no much price difference unless picking the anytime ticket
  • Off-peak prices mean that business travellers will probably fly instead
  • Travel time is 2:15 h for the train vs. 1:00 h for the plane

So will Low-Cost, Value or Budget Carriers continue to reinvent themselves to counter the high-speed rail threat? Or will they embrace it and join forces to win the battle for the customer ? Whatever happens, railways and airlines will need to provide the traveller with a good online booking tool and ticketing interface, that could handle multimodal travel search and a seamless travel experience.

Learn how rail can strengthen customer focus!

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