Skift Travel News Blog

Short stories and posts about the daily news happenings around the travel industry.


Deutsche Bahn Pushes For More Rail Investment as Ridership Surges

2 months ago

German rail operator Deutsche Bahn expects a very good year in 2023. Ridership on its long-distance trains is forecast to be “well over” 150 million passengers, exceeding the peak before the pandemic of 150.7 million riders, CEO Richard Lutz said Thursday.

But while that outlook shows the strong demand for travel and resilience of rail in the post-pandemic world, it also highlights the limits of Deutsche Bahn’s network — once a leader in Europe. On-time performance of its long-distance trains dropped to a historic low of 65 percent as travelers flooded back, the operator said. For comparison, 76 percent of Deutsche Bahn’s trains were on time in 2019 when they carried 12 percent more riders.

Lutz used the operational situation to call for Germany to “change course and approach the renovation and modernization of [rail] infrastructure in a completely different way.”

An ICE 3neo high-speed train
A new ICE 3neo train. (DB AG)

Last year, Deutsche Bahn carried 132 million travelers on its long-distance trains. While still below pre-pandemic levels, ridership hit records during the summer — when the so-called 9 euro ticket on local and regional trains attracted people in droves to the system — and over the Christmas holiday. The operator opened a new high-speed rail line on a section between Stuttgart and Munich, and introduced new high-spreed trains, dubbed the ICE 3neo, in December. Deutsche Bahn also signed on as the Star Alliance’s first intermodal partner, and saw an increase in the number of passengers connecting between trains and planes.

“Climate-friendly mobility is booming,” Lutz said. “The demand is right and is currently growing strongly. This spurs us on to become better for our customers as quickly as possible – because Germany deserves a railway that is more efficient and punctual.”


Germany’s Deutsche Bahn Sees Jump in Air-Rail Passenger Numbers

4 months ago

German rail operator Deutsche Bahn saw demand for connections between its trains and flights operated by Lufthansa increase 25 percent last year. The increase comes after the railroad and airline expanded their partnership, including more direct trains to the Frankfurt airport, in 2021.

“Where aviation and rail cooperate, we record double-digit growth rates,” said Michael Peterson, the head of Deutsche Bahn’s long-distance rail division that includes high-speed ICE trains, on Monday. “Our expanded feeder services to the largest German airport in Frankfurt am Main are part of this success.”

While Deutsche Bahn did not release passenger numbers, it said demand for these joint air-rail itineraries — or travelers who book both a flight and train connection on a single ticket — fully recovered from the pandemic by October 2021, and then grew in 2022. The data does not include travelers who bought flight and train tickets separately.

Lufthansa has previously said that it sold roughly 575,000 joint air-rail tickets with Deutsche Bahn in 2019.

(Deutsche Bahn)

Increasing the use of rail and ground transport over flights is a big push in Europe’s efforts to cut carbon emissions. France has banned short flights on routes where trains can make the journey in two-and-a-half-hours or less, while airlines and rail operators in Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, and Switzerland have all unveiled expanded partnerships in recent years. Deutsche Bahn, which has partnered with Lufthansa since the 1980s, even plans to join the global airline confab, Star Alliance, as its first intermodal partner.

However, major challenges remain, many related to the passenger experience and physical infrastructure. Wayfinding between flights and trains is limited at some airports, making the transfer experience potentially difficult for those unfamiliar with the process. And, outside of key high-speed rail routes in Western Europe, trains often take significantly longer than the flights they compete with.

Deutsche Bahn, in its statement Monday, highlighted the need for more infrastructure investment in order to expand the number of air-rail passengers. A new high-speed line between Munich and Stuttgart that opened in December will eventually link the Stuttgart airport, and the operator said a high-speed rail link to the Munich airport was needed in the future.


France and Germany Promise Direct Paris-Berlin Trains From 2024

4 months ago

French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Sunday unveiled plans for a high-speed train route connecting their respective capitals, Paris and Berlin, beginning next year.

“As a tangible initiative illustrating our will to push forward on decarbonizing our economies and our societies, as well as our cross-border links, we support the deployment of the high-speed train route between Paris and Berlin, as well as the night train liaison, both announced for 2024,” they said in a joint statement. They did not provide additional details, for example which country’s rail operator — France’s SNCF or Germany’s Deutsche Bahn — would operate the planned service.

TGV and ICE trains at Munich station
A French TGV and German ICE train at the Munich station. (Deutsche Bahn)

A direct Paris-Berlin high-speed rail service would eliminate the need for travelers to change trains in either Cologne or Frankfurt. However, as rail blogger Alon Levy noted, without additional infrastructure improvements the new direct service will likely take about the 8 hours in travel, or about the same as the current connecting services.

Flights between Paris and Berlin take roughly 1 hour and 45 minutes, according to Diio by Cirium schedules.

Deutsche Bahn and SNCF operate 24 trains between France and Germany daily, according to the latter’s website. Trains directly connect Paris and other French cities with Frankfurt, Munich, Stuttgart and other German cities.


Spain’s Renfe to Launch New Through Train Service to France by Summer

5 months ago

Spain’s rail operator Renfe has begun testing two new cross-border high-speed rail routes to France that could begin carrying passengers by summer.

Renfe tested through AVE train service from Madrid Atocha to Marseille on Tuesday, and from Barcelona Sants to Lyon on Monday. Once driver training and familiarization is complete, the operator aims to begin initial revenue service of three weekly trains on each route by summer. Renfe plans to increase the number of trains on both routes to twice daily — or 28 high-speed trains a day between France and Spain — under its second phase service plan.

A Renfe train at the station in Lyon, France.
A Renfe train at the station in Lyon after a test run from Barcelona. (Renfe)

Renfe did not disclose the expected duration of both routes. However, the Madrid-Marseille service would make 13 intermediate stops, including in Barcelona; and the Barcelona-Lyon route would make seven stops, including in Perpignan.

Expanding cross-border rail links is a goal of European Union authorities as they aim to cut the bloc’s carbon emissions. While many individual countries have invested in their own high-speed rail networks, connections between the networks are limited. Only about 7 percent of cross-border trips in Europe are made by rail, according to the European Commission’s DG Move department.

The rail link between France and Spain first opened in 2013. Renfe and France’s SNCF previously cooperated on cross-border rail service between Barcelona and both Lyon and Marseille but terminated their partnership in December. The SNCF operated Barcelona-Lyon trains made the trip in roughly 5 hours. Renfe’s new through trains will replace some of the services previously operated under the partnership.

SNCF operates three daily high-speed TGV trains between Barcelona Sants and Paris Gare de Lyon.


Brightline Carried Record Number of Passengers on Its Trains in 2022

5 months ago

Private passenger rail operator Brightline carried a record 1.23 million passengers last year, the railroad’s first full year of operations since 2019. The number, which the railroad released in a monthly financial disclosure on Wednesday, represents a nearly 22 percent increase in ridership from three years earlier before the Covid-19 pandemic.

On the financial side of the ledger, Brightline’s annual revenues increased nearly 49 percent to $32 million in 2022 compared to three years earlier.

The 2022 numbers bode well for Brightline, which is the only private intercity rail operator in the U.S. The railroad is in the process of extending its Florida line to Orlando, which is expected to open for passengers later this year. Construction of the extension to the Orlando airport was 90 percent complete at the end of December. A future extension to Tampa is planned with Universal Orlando recently committing funds to construction of a critical 11-mile segment across Orlando.

Brightline recently released the first renderings of its new station at the Orlando airport. The facility is directly connected to the airport’s new Terminal C that opened last September.

Ridership on Brightline’s South Florida rail line between Miami and West Palm Beach got a year-end boost with the opening of two new stations — in Aventura and Boca Raton — in late December. The two stations added 17,682 riders to Brightline trains in just the last 10 days of the year.

The company is also developing a new high-speed rail line between Las Vegas and Southern California, known as Brightline West, that could begin construction this year.

Brightline’s new Aventura station opened on December 24, 2022. (Brightline)


Germany to Open New Fast Rail Line Between Munich and Stuttgart

7 months ago

German rail operator Deutsche Bahn will reduce travel times between Munich and Stuttgart to under two hours when a new high-speed rail line opens in December.

The 37-mile (60 kilometer) Wendlingen–Ulm high-speed line will open on December 11, Deutsche Bahn said Thursday. The new line will reduce trip times between Munich and Stuttgart by about 15 minutes, or to as little as 1 hour and 57 minutes based on current schedules.

An ICE test train on the new Wendlingen–Ulm high-speed rail line. (Deutsche Bahn/Volker Emersleben)

The line opening comes as Germany and other European countries encourage rail travel as a way to reduce carbon emissions. Last summer, Germany’s “9 Euro ticket,” as it was called, proved a popular success getting more people to use trains and buses for local and regional journeys. The country will roll out a new $50 (€49) monthly pass in January in response to the popularity of the 9 Euro ticket.

Shifting travelers from planes to trains is another part of Europe’s effort to reduce carbon emissions. As part of that effort, Deutsche Bahn will become the first rail member of a global airline alliance, the Star Alliance, as well as expand its airline partnerships. In France, the government has gone as far as to ban flights on short routes where trains can make the journey in two-and-a-half-hours or less.


Portugal Plans $4.7 Billion Lisbon-Porto High-Speed Rail Line

8 months ago

Portugal is getting in on the high-speed rail bandwagon. The country’s prime minister, António Costa, unveiled Wednesday plans for a new $4.7 billion (4.9 billion) passenger rail line that, when it opens in 2030, will cut travel train times between Lisbon and Porto by an hour-and-a-half to one hour and 19 minutes.

The planned line will connect Lisbon’s Oriente station to Porto’s Campanha station a little over 185 miles to the north. It will include four intermediate stops at Leiria, Coimbra, Aveiro and Gaia. In addition, Costa said the new line will eventually extend from Porto to the Spanish city of Vigo, about another 100 miles to the north, where it will connect with Spain’s AVE high-speed rail network. The extension will include stops at Porto’s airport, Braga, and Valença.

Lisbon Oriente Train
A train at Lisbon’s Oriente station. (Chester025/Flickr)

In comments posted on Twitter, Costa highlighted the importance of connecting Portugal’s two largest city as well as the country’s international competitiveness for the investment. The high-speed rail line will also help move the country to “the forefront of the fight against climate change, [and] changing the mobility paradigm.”

Trains have taken on a renewed importance across Europe amid the push to cut carbon emissions, and the spike in energy prices following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February. France, for example, banned domestic flights on routes where a train makes the journey in two-and-a-half-hours or less. And, in Germany, a so-called “9 euro ticket” local and regional rail pass this summer exceeded expectations — and proved doubters wrong — in boosting rail travel and helping ease the pain of high energy prices.


Eurostar CEO Says Recovery Stymied by Brexit, Lack of Government Aid

8 months ago

As travel has surged back from the pandemic, issues that the industry faced prior to the precipitous drop in travel are coming home to roost. That’s the case at Eurostar, the high-speed passenger rail line that connects London to Europe under the English Channel.

The introduction of border controls post-Brexit at Eurostar’s London and Paris terminals have created bottlenecks that, given the current infrastructure, are limiting the railroad’s ability to fully capture the dramatic surge in travel demand, Eurostar Group CEO Jacques Damas told the chair of the UK Parliament’s Transport Committee in a letter Monday.

eurostar gare du nord paris
(Sean O’Neill/Skift)

Despite the installation of new e-gates and customs booths at London’s St. Pancras, station capacity is roughly 30 percent lower — or 1,500 people an hour versus 2,200 in 2019 — than it was before the pandemic, Damas claimed. “It is only the fact that Eurostar has capacity-limited trains and significantly reduced its timetable from 2019 levels, that we are not seeing daily queues in the center of London,” he said.

The situation Eurostar faces is reminiscent of the struggles at U.S. airports when new security rules were implemented after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001. Many airports were forced to adopt less-than-ideal solutions to accommodate security needs in spaces designed for less intrusive checks. Redesigning airport terminals for these needs continues to this day. For one: Denver airport’s $1 billion over budget terminal project is focused of fixing the security queue problems that were created two decades ago.

Eurostar, which is owned by French rail company SNCF and merged with Belgian and Dutch high-speed rail operator Thalys earlier this year, was operating about 75 percent of its pre-pandemic trains in July. Corporate travel, which is a key part of the line’s business, was at 70 percent of 2019 levels. But these numbers lag many of Eurostar’s continental peers.

SNCF, which operates the French high-speed TGV rail network, reported earlier in September that corporate travel across its passenger trains stood at 90 percent of pre-pandemic levels. Demand for travel to some destinations this summer was 10 percent above 2019 levels. And, in the first half of 2022, revenues for SNCF’s intercity passenger rail division, SNCF Voyageurs, were down just 4 percent compared to three years ago.

Elsewhere on the continent, high-speed rail operators reported strong passenger numbers this summer. Ridership on Germany’s Deutsche Bahn was up compared to 2019, though it likely benefitted from the country’s 9 Euro Ticket offering for local and regional trains, while Spain’s Renfe recovered to 91 percent of three years ago.

For now, at least according to Eurostar CEO Damas, the railroad may have to operate fewer trains than it did in 2019 through at least 2025. That may mean the recent decision to suspend popular service to Disneyland Paris could be extended for several years. In addition to the Brexit-related border control rules, Eurostar’s finances struggled by the lack of state aid during the pandemic, and a shortage of maintenance staff, he said.


Eurostar to Suspend Disneyland Paris Trains

9 months ago

Britons will not be able to grab a direct train to Disneyland Paris next summer. High-speed rail operator Eurostar will suspend service between London and the theme park on the outskirts of Paris on June 5, 2023, it told travel agents Wednesday.

Eurostar, which is owned by French rail operator SNCF, said it needs to “focus on our core routes to stabilize our operations” for the decision to suspend trains the European outpost of the Magic Kingdom. The railroad also mentioned financial commitments, and new entry and exit requirements between the UK and EU.

In a bit of good news, Eurostar said it would “review” its operations for 2024, leaving open the door for a possible resumption of train service to Disneyland Paris.

(Joe JABRE/Flickr)

During the first six months of the year, Eurostar said business travel on its core London-Paris route had recovered to 70 percent of 2019 levels without providing exact numbers; it operated roughly 75 percent of its pre-pandemic schedule. SNCF Voyageurs, which includes Eurostar as well as SNCF’s other passenger train services, has reported a strong rebound in passenger numbers on its trains during the first half of the year, particularly from March.

SNCF received approval from European authorities to merge Eurostar and Thalys, which operates high-speed passenger trains in Belgium and the Netherlands, into the new Eurostar Group in March. The new company plans to grow ridership to 30 million people by 2030 from 19 million in 2019.


Spain’s Renfe to Open New High-Speed Rail Line in July

11 months ago

Spanish railroad operator Renfe will open its newest high-speed line between Madrid and Burgos on July 22.

The new line will save travelers roughly 45 minutes with AVE trains taking just an hour and 33 minutes for trips between Madrid and Burgos, which is 134 miles north of the Spanish capital. In addition, it will reduce travel times between Madrid and the coastal cities of Bilbao and San Sebastián by up to 38 minutes. Renfe will offer up to 32 trains a day between Madrid and Burgos.

Renfe is offering 100,000 one-way tickets starting at €18 ($18.85) for travel on the new line.

(Nelso Silva/Flickr)

The opening comes as European countries are increasingly pushing rail travel as a key way to reduce carbon emissions. Germany is offering a so-called “9 Euro ticket,” or less than $10, regional rail monthly passes this summer in an effort to boost ridership, and the UK opened the long-planned Elizabeth Line across London in June. Even airlines, which have long competed with trains, are expanding their partnerships with rail operators and offering more joint air-rail itineraries to travelers. Renfe unveiled a new partnership with Iberia in March.




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