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Rail travel THE WIDER PICTURE


PROGRESS towards a pan-European rail GDS is painfully slow, and the difficulty in booking is the main reason why business travellers are not offered the rail alternative when planning their itineraries. The European Commission is leading an initiative to


get the main European rail networks to share data, which would allow GDS including Amadeus, Travelport and Sabre to connect. But this will take many years to achieve, and in the meantime Amadeus is bringing forward initiatives to make booking rail easier. A blog on the Amadeus Rail website sums up the difficulties for TMCs: “If travel agents are to sell rail effectively, they need a GDS in the same vein as that used by the airline industry. This would constitute a simplified, automated end-to-end booking tool that would link front, mid and back office; would make it easy to compare price and availability, and would be standardised for booking all rail providers. “A system like this would represent a step change for


the travel agency business model. Currently, a fragmented rail industry which lacks standardisation requires agencies to have specific rail expertise in order to understand the various methods of booking rail – making it a difficult and costly service to offer.”


Head of Amadeus Rail, Thomas Drexler, believes its new


Agent Track solution is an important step forward. French rail operator SNCF is the launch customer, and the system allows TMCs to access schedules, fares and inventory on a single screen. It has also introduced FlyByRail Track, an air/rail search-based solution which allows a train operator to be displayed alongside air services without having to conform 100 per cent to airline distribution standards. Trenitalia is one of the first operators to be featured, showing high-speed rail in Italy. “We are confident that all major Western European rail





business travellers’ priorities, and you can’t have that when you travel by car or air.” Adrian Watts, sales and distribution


director at thetrainline.com, says it costs companies nothing to use the travel policy tool on its website to hold down costs, but many are still happy to allow their employees the freedom to choose fare types. “The fare increases that


Pictured: Eurostar; Chiltern Railways; Deutsche Bahn


“Virgin has recorded the highest overall satisfaction


come every January are no surprise,” he says. “We offer Best Fare Finder, and advance fares are as competitive as ever although some operators are reducing the window for buying the lowest fares.” So it could be a case of grinning and bearing fare increases, but if you start to get less for your money – less space and





levels of any long-distance rail operator


less catering – the grumbles of discontent may grow. Virgin has recorded the highest overall satisfaction levels of any long-distance operator, increasing West Coast passenger numbers by more than double to 30 million a year since it took over in 1997. In any other industry, success on that scale


would be richly rewarded. Many people hope Virgin will be rewarded with a new deal on the West Coast, and that the government can find a way of running the railways that doesn’t drive passengers away through steep fare increases.


operators will be using Agent Track by early 2014,” says Drexler. “This will make selling cross-border services much easier, and we are talking to potential distribution partners in the UK to integrate the British rail network.” This would be a timely development as both Eurostar and DB German Railways plan to offer more international destinations direct from London by then, including Cologne, Frankfurt and Amsterdam. But while Eurostar dominates travel from London to Paris and Brussels, it remains to be seen whether rail operators can make big inroads into airlines’ share on journeys of four or five hours.


66 THE BUSINESS TRAVEL MAGAZINE


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