With rail travel now faster than air travel over many sectors in Europe, European rail operators have moved to close the final gap, introducing new ticketing deadlines, a higher GDS profile and yield-managed fares. For Australian agents, this brings rail fully up to speed with long-established airline practices.
In Sydney yesterday, Rail Plus chief executive James Dunne and Rail Europe Manager Australasia Ingrid Kocijan delivered an overview of current trends shaping European rail travel, including Eurostar developments.
This year has seen changes designed to make rail more attractive for families. For example, children aged 15 or under can now ride for free on the London Heathrow Express (a 15-minute service between Heathrow Airport and Paddington Station).
In Australia, Rail Plus has responded to agent feedback by:
- Extending live chat hours (from 7am-7pm AEDT);
- Giving consultants the ability to copy and paste invoice details into their back office systems;
- Launching training webinars, which agents can complete at their own pace.
In Europe and elsewhere, rail is catching the public imagination as never before. Dunne, who is from an airline background, having served as Singapore Airlines state manager for NSW/ACT and Austrian Airlines before joining Rail Plus as chief executive last year, says he sees similarities with European river cruising, which took off in a big way over 10 years ago.
Dunne says agents are now asking for more rail as a core component, but also wanting to link it to cruising, land content and other travel experiences.
Rail offered major advantages, Dunne said. You could arrive in many central city destinations faster by train that by air and the process was hassle free.
“You are 100% productive on the whole of your journey,” he said.
That means you can work, rather than queue at airports and worry about fasten seat-belt signs while travelling. Many travellers use laptops or tablets as they speed across international rail networks.
Rail Plus is continuing its efforts to increase the visibility of rail through GDS. It currently has a tab in Amadeus, and now looking at working more closely with other GDSs to create similar solutions for consultants.
On other horizons, Rail Plus will shortly release new modules on Canada (Via Rail) and Rocky Mountaineer.
On other points:
- As well as a continued growth in point-to-point tickets, Rail Plus is seeing a trend towards Australian rail passengers opting for national passes in Europe (rather than multinational passes). Once people are travelling on three or more sectors in one county, a national pass offers particularly good value.
This reflects the growing maturity of the Australian market, with travellers returning to Europe to explore single countries or specific regions, as well as the fact that Australian travellers can now fly directly into a broader range of European cities.
- Amtrak services can currently be booked through the Rail Plus reservations system as a manual process, but Rail Plus currently does not offer live inventory on its website. That may be about the change, however. Rail Plus will have an announcement within the next few weeks. “Watch this space…,” Rail Plus says.
- Rail Plus has also added a direct connection to Germany’s Deutsche Bahn rail network, which means it now offers 24/7 access to the cheapest point-to-point fares across all major Western European markets, including France, Italy, Spain and the UK.
Kocijan and Dunne delivered an update on Eurostar aspects.
- New Eurostar routes. In May Eurostar launched its new year-round Lyon-Provence route (stopping at Lyon, Avignon and Marseille). A new direct service to Amsterdam will come online in 2016.
- Revamped fleet: Currently Eurostar operates 27 trains between the UK and France and Belgium. The trains run at speeds up to 186km, completing the London-Paris leg in 2hrs and 15mins. They offer a total of 750 seats (equivalent to two B747s) – 544 seats in Standard class and 206 in Business Premier and Standard Premier.
- Eurostar’s new fleet will include 17 brand new e320 trains from German company Siemens, with the first trains on track to arrive in late 2015. The new state-of-the-art e320 trains will travel at 200mph (or 320kph), shaving 15mins off the London-Paris trip.
Meanwhile, Great Train Journeys:
Rail Plus is seeing exponential growth of its Great Train Journeys program, with Rocky Mountaineer providing significant momentum. In addition, the company is seeing heightening interest in destinations such as Spain (El Transcantabrico, Al Andalus and El Expreso de La Robla).
Rail Plus is continuing to expand the program, with the new brochure due to be released within the next two weeks.
New offerings will include Belmond Grand Hibernian, Ireland’s first luxury rail journey. From 2016 the train will traverse Ireland’s dramatic landscapes and colourful cities, with passengers having a choice of three different itineraries ranging from two to six days.
Other wonders, exotic but attainable, include Golden Eagle Luxury Trains, which runs itineraries such as Trans-Siberian Express, running from Moscow over the Urals and across the steppes. To celebrate its 100th anniversary, Golden Eagle is running a departure on the Baikal-Amur Magistral line, an engineering feat of immense proportions passing through some of the world’s most inhospitable terrain.
Rail Plus is one of several GSAs of Rail Europe. Rail Europe has about 200 GSAs in the world and Australia is in the top 10.
Rail Europe connects travellers to thousands of destinations from its network of European rail operators. Major train operators Rail Europe uses includes the London, Paris, Lille, Brussels connection on Eurostar, the French high-speed trains TGV and the international TGV Lyria. Others include Spanish rail operator Renfe with its AVE trains, Italian operator Trenitalia with its Frecciarossa, the German ICE trains, and the red Thalys, which connects Brussels to the Netherlands and France.
Written by Peter Needham