Green Trains On The Horizon: FlixTrain Expanding To The Netherlands

FlixBus, a prominent German mobility startup renowned for its affordable green buses that traverse mainland Europe, has also ventured into rail travel with its FlixTrain service. FlixTrain commenced operations in 2018, taking advantage of the German rail lines' opening to private competition five years prior.

With an extensive network comprising over 70 stations along major German rail routes by mid-2022, FlixTrain has been steadily expanding its reach. Notably, the company recently extended its train services to Sweden, broadening its international presence.

Girl on flixtrain Woman on Train

Looking ahead, FlixTrain has set its sights on further expansion, this time targeting the Netherlands. In a recent development, Flix formally notified the Dutch Consumer and Market Authority (ACM) of its plans and submitted an application to ProRail, the entity responsible for managing Dutch rail infrastructure. Essentially, FlixTrain is seeking approval and track capacity to operate its trains on Dutch lines.

FlixTrain has set a target start date of November 10, 2024, for an open-access rail connection from Rotterdam to Oberhausen, Germany. As stated in FlixTrain's application to the ACM, the train will make stops at Arnhem, Utrecht, Amsterdam, and The Hague.

The proposed route entails two train pairs per day, with each train accommodating approximately 500 to 700 seats. The seating capacity may vary depending on the season, with longer trains being deployed during the summer months compared to the winter period.

Unlike state-owned enterprises such as Deutsche Bahn (DB) in Germany and Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS) in the Netherlands, FlixTrain operates as an open-access operator. This means that the company assumes the full commercial risk, operates on third-party infrastructure, and purchases access to chosen routes. This contrasts with DB and NS, which own and operate a significant portion of the key infrastructure themselves.

FlixTrain has emerged as a major competitor to DB in recent years, largely due to its comparatively lower fares. The company often offers tickets at a 50% reduced price compared to DB, with fares as low as €9 for a journey from Cologne to Berlin, in contrast to the national provider's approximate €45 fare.

One factor contributing to FlixTrain's ability to offer low fares is its utilization of refurbished DB trains painted in their signature green color. Additionally, FlixTrain is presumably supported by its more profitable sister company, FlixBus, as it endeavors to gain a larger share of the private rail market. However, it is worth noting that DB still maintains a dominant 97% market share in Germany.

Challenging NS, the incumbent rail operator in the Netherlands, will also be a formidable task. Although the Netherlands opened its rail network to private competition in 2019, NS continues to hold a monopoly on the rail network and benefits from substantial concessions and government subsidies.

While FlixTrain aspires to operate across Europe in the future, concessions like those granted to NS present significant hurdles. Arthur Kamminga, a legal and public affairs expert at Flix, emphasized the lack of a level playing field when competing against subsidized and priority-given operators.

Kamminga is also a representative of AllRail, a lobby group advocating for "fair competition" in Europe's rail market. The group believes that fostering competition in the rail sector is essential for driving innovation, lowering prices, and promoting a more attractive low-carbon transportation option.

Currently, FlixTrain's application awaits a decision from ProRail, the authority responsible for determining whether the private train operator can share tracks with NS.

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