Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Chris0696

Railcoop’s initial Lyon - Bordeaux service will use second-hand X72500 diesel railcars built in the late 1990s.

FRANCE: The Grand Est regional government has contributed €500 000 to open access operator Railcoop through its co-operative business model, becoming the latest institutional member to support the start-up.

Speaking to Railway Gazette International at the SIFER trade show in Lille on October 27, Railcoop Rolling Stock Consultant Selim Zitoumi said that Grand Est was just one of a number of municipalities and other public bodies which have signed up as shareholders in the venture, which is structured as a ‘community interest group’.

The members are split into five cohorts or collèges ranging from private individuals through to technical and financial backers and large public bodies; Railcoop had 9 142 shareholders in total by mid-September.

According to Zitoumi, a significant advantage of the co-operative model is that it enables complementary and even competing entities to join; a number of Opérateur de Proximité freight and logistics players have signed up, giving Railcoop access to a wider support network as it looks to launch its first commercial freight services in Occitanie on November 15.

Co-operatives using similar business models in the energy and micro-mobility sectors have also signed up.

2030 network planned

Industry insiders report that the company has also received technical support from Romanian passenger operator Regiotrans, which, like Railcoop, has taken on a fleet of former SNCF X72500 diesel railcars. These suffered reliability problems when used by the French incumbent, but their performance in Romania has reportedly been better following a series of overhauls and technical modifications.

Railcoop network plan for 2030

Railcoop’s network plan for 2030

Railcoop has acquired six of the DMUs for its initial passenger service between Lyon and Bordeaux via the Massif Central; having initially been scheduled to launch in June 2022, these trains are now expected to start running in December next year subject to paths being finalised with SNCF Réseau.

Looking further ahead, Zitoumi said Railcoop now has a firm vision for the routes it wishes to operate by 2030, and this would put pressure on the infrastructure manager to undertake the required renovations of what in many cases are lightly used or even abandoned secondary lines; he cited sections of the Lille – Rouen – Caen corridor near Serqueux as an example. He also suggested that the operator is developing a productive relationship with regulator ART to ensure non-discriminatory access to the network.

However, Railcoop remains committed to the open access model, he said, and would not be bidding for any regional passenger operating contracts tendered by the various local governments. The company still sees its principal market as point-to-point travel in provincial areas poorly served by public transport, plus those routes where car sharing and low cost buses have gained share.

Railcoop’s app and web sales channels will sell SNCF tickets to support through journeys, but to date SNCF Voyageurs has indicated it will not reciprocate through its platform.