Since Germany’s railway system started letting rail companies other than national rail operator Deutsche Bahn (DB) use the rails, there have been other companies running trains, but they often fail thanks to competition from long-haul buses that can operate more cheaply because they use the roads. But a new company, Locomore, wants to offer a real alternative to the DB monopoly, which keeps prices high, but also aims to offer an an alternative to hopping in your car and taking the Autobahn. And they know there’s a market for it: The idea got its start–and initial funding–from a campaign on German crowdfunding site StartNext, where it raised more than 250,000 euros.
Locomore’s first train travels the 400 miles between Berlin and Stuttgart, and made its maiden voyage on December 14. It uses modified IC (inter city) coaches, with Wi-Fi, power outlets and tables, and it currently around one-third to one-half the price of the DB train. The service bills itself as a “ecological, low-priced service-oriented and child-friendly alternative to the Deutsche Bahn.”
Not only is Locomore cheaper, but you don’t pay extra to book a seat, nor to buy your tickets online (in fact, online booking, and booking via app, are the preferred methods). You can also choose quiet cars, as usual, but also pick a “themed” car where you are put with people who share your interests–comic-books, football, English, and knitting for instance. The train even has board-games on board. Locomore also plans to accept DB tickets if the terms make it viable, and offers business-friendly services like a mobile office–a private compartment for work and meetings.
That’s the people angle. The service is also environmentally responsible. It uses electricity from green power provider Naturstrom AG, and returns energy generated by braking back into the grid. Food and drink served on board are from sustainable and local sources.
The train is already just about the best way to travel in the country, and this looks like the perfect train. But perhaps more importantly, it shows what railways can become when a little competition is involved. Locomore manages to be cheaper, easier to use, and more friendly than DB, even while it pays rental on its cars and lines. Meanwhile, DB, like many legacy rail networks around Europe, is still operating trains as if we were way back in the early part of the last century, with high prices, inconvenient ticketing systems, and nothing to do on board except drink bad coffee and stare out the window.
[Photos: ubahnverleih via Wiki Commons]