GERMAN Railway’s long distance passenger business has charged its DB Autozug GmbH subsidiary with developing night services so that they run at a profit.
Autozug’s main responsibility until now has been to develop Germany’s motorail services, for which it is refurbishing couchettes and sleeping cars (RG 4.98 p232). Karl-Dietrich Reemtsema, Head of DB’s Long Distance Passenger Business, says that a team from Autozug is now developing a business strategy for DB’s other overnight trains, which he admits are loss-making. The intention is to set up a profit centre for night trains, tasked with achieving break-even in three or four years.
In essence, says Reemtsema, the overnight market requires special treatment and a real commitment to make it economic. This is because the level of service required is quite different from that needed for day trains. Not only that, but the total volume of traffic is not large enough to justify running separate trains for different sectors of the market. This means that all types of traffic must be catered for in each train.
Trains would run in standard formations, and each will have at least one car with luxury sleeping accommodation (with shower and toilet), sleeping cars offering the same standard as those now in service, couchettes and what Reemtsema refers to as a ’budget class’. Quite what accommodation will be provided for budget fare passengers remains an open question.
’Rational operations are vital’, says Reemtsema, so each train will serve as many destinations as possible. Two or three sections from different starting points will combine to run as a single train.
The concept of standard trains is relatively easy to implement on domestic routes. For international services Reemtsema says DB is seeking partners willing to work along the same lines.
DB is still a partner in Dach Hotelzug, the company operating CityNightLine services. If DB’s own night services are restructured, Reemtsema questions how long the CityNightLine services can continue within the current structure.
DB’s other luxury overnight trains, consisting of Talgo formations marketed as InterCityNight, run on three routes: Hamburg - München, Berlin - München and Berlin - Bonn. The first two enjoy ’excellent’ load factors of 60 to 70%. DB has recently extended the Berlin - Bonn service to and from Frankfurt-am-Main to try and stimulate more business.
Reemtsema says that a rigorous analysis of costs has shown that considerable savings are in prospect, and ’we believe that the ICN services can become profitable.’ Already Talgo has increased the interval between depot visits, helping to cut maintenance costs and drive up the cost recovery ratio.
Asked about the Talgo couchette vehicles introduced last year (RG 4.97 p221), Reemtsema says that they are very popular with passengers, but costly for DB to run as the number of berths is less than in a comparable ’conventional’ couchette car.
Reemtsema agrees that reclining seats cars are not the correct answer for overnight travel, as people only sleep properly if they are able to lie down. ’We have still not decided what to do’, he says, as ’it seems the couchette cars are too costly.’ o
CAPTION: Talgo overnight trains between Berlin and Bonn offering couchette mini-compartments have been extended to Frankfurt