CZECH REPUBLIC: Student Agency has announced plans to launch a privately-operated Praha - Ostrava inter-city service by 2011.Artist's impression of HighJet train

SA intends to purchase six electric trainsets from Siemens or Stadler for KC2bn, according to Chairman Radim Jancura. Branded HighJet, the yellow-liveried trains will run in direct competition with Czech Railways' flagship Pendolino services introduced in December 2005.

Jancura is a strong critic of state-owned CD and the Ministry of Transport's system of passenger transport subsidy. He said SA will offer cheaper tickets than CD, but will provide a higher quality service with up to six classes, a conference room and cinema. Launch costs of up to KC200m plus loans will require Jancura to postpone earlier plans to manage a four-star hotel chain, but he expects HighJet to be making an operating profit within three months.

Founded in 1993, SA is the biggest seller of air tickets in the Czech Republic. It also operates extensive domestic and international bus services, and arranges language study and business travel. It recorded a turnover of KC3bn for 2007, with a post-tax profit of KC15m reflecting the investment of earnings back into company development.

A plan for a privately-operated passenger service on the lucrative Praha - Ostrava route had been announced by Sokolov-based Railtrans in 2006, but was dropped last year after problems obtaining approval for the Siemens ES64F4 locos it had intended to use, and 'hostile' actions taken by CD and state authorities (RG 11.07 p 682).