SLOVAKIA: Czech open access passenger operator RegioJet has announced plans to enter the non-subsidised long-distance rail market in Slovakia, with an application for train paths for four daily return inter-city services on the Bratislava – Žilina – Košice route from the December 14 2014 timetable change.

Services would connect with RegioJet’s existing pair of Praha – Žilina trains, which will be extended to Košice to compete with the four pairs of long-distance trains currently operated jointly by the national operators ČD and ZSSK.

Inter-city trains on the Bratislava – Košice line were excluded from national railway ZSSK’s public service contracts in January 2012, and are now operated on a purely commercial basis. The incumbent is making efforts to attract more passengers through improved comfort, modern rolling stock and a flexible fare policy. Journey time is 5 h 4 min for the 445 km trip. The trains carried 690 000 passengers in 2013, up 2% on 2012, with an average load factor of 75%. ZSSK made a loss of €1·7m on these trains in 2013, but this was down 48·7% on 2012. In 2011 the still-subsidised trains recorded a loss of €3·3m.

RegioJet owner Radim Jančura believes its service can be profitable, as its operating costs are 30% to 40% lower than the incumbent. However, he fears a price war similar to that which has broken out with ČD and later LEO Express on the Praha – Ostrava route in the Czech Republic. LEO Express has also applied for paths to operate a Praha – Kosice service.

Fares have not been announced, although ZSSK charges €22 for a single ticket on average. As well as cheaper tickets, RegioJet hopes to attract passengers with free refreshments, wi-fi, newspapers and an attendant in each of the modern 160 km/h air-conditioned coaches, a model similar to that applied in the Czech Republic. If successful, it plans to recruit ‘several hundred’ of staff.

RegioJet has been active in Slovakia since March 2012 when it successfully took over operation of subsidised regional trains on the Bratislava – Komárno line replacing ZSSK (RG 3.12 p 11).

In Q1 2014 RegioJet carried 475 562 passengers on the Praha – Ostrava/Třinec (– Žilina) route, up 37% on 2013, and its ambition is to achieve the largest share of passengers on the route. However, the trains are still losing KC90m/year, and from June 15 RegioJet will withdraw two train pairs with lower ridership to enable to it strengthen more popular services.