The Czech Regiojet is now a private company well established in the railway landscape of Central Europe, as it operates its trains in three countries.
Regiojet is the largest private passenger rail operator in the Czech Republic. It is a wholly owned subsidiary of Student Agency, an agency created in 1993 by Radim Jančura, who was an entrepreneurial student of the University of Brno, the second largest city in the country. Jančura benefited from the implementation, in Czech legislation, of the European Directive 2007/58 / EC – which endorses open access by allowing the possibility of cabotage – and which allows Czech Republic to receive subsidies from the State in return for a tariff commitment for students and certain other social groups, including on bus lines. As the business of the student agency bus network is precisely the student customers, Radim Jančura, assisted by Keolis on the practical issues (SNCF), is convinced that he can do the same business with railways. Thus was born Regiojet…
As the Czech legislation no longer « protects » the České dráhy (CD, the railway incumbant), the new firm was able to register as a railway company on 6 October 2009. Unlike Leo Express, WESTBahn or NTV-Italo, Regiojet did not choose new rolling stock but for used cars.
This was particularly timely. Since 2008, the Austrian neighbor has launched its famous Railjets, meaning the sidelining of many of the excellent UIC « Z » cars, which made up former ÖBB Intercity / Eurocity trains, and whose reputation was not more to prove. As the ÖBB put a lot of these cars on sale, Radim Jančura bought some. In Italy, Ferrovie Nord Milano wanted to get rid of its 3kV E 630 machines… from Czech origin Skoda. Radim Jančura also bought them and them back to the country, in the Metrans Dyko workshop in Kolin.
With a fleet of 9 locomotives and 28 cars, Regiojet began its first service in September 2011 on the Prague – Ostrava (- Zilina) route. The livery resumes that of buses of Student Agency: yellow egg, not wanting to go unnoticed. On board, customers can enjoy the same services and amenities as buses, including the full wifi, tested by myself. A simple confirmation e-mail takes the place of a ticket!
Today, Radim Jančura’s company’s fleet has:
– +/- 90 passenger cars, including refurbished ÖBB and CFF with an order for 70 new cars at the Romanian factory Astra;
– Skoda locomotives and new TRAXX to deliver;
– 370 contractual employees.
These new cars are not registered in the Czech Republic but in Austria. CEO Radim Jančura explains this curious policy by the bad experience that he encountered in his early times with the Czech National Vehicle Registration Authority, which seemed to want to create some trouble for the newcomer. Among the cars, the Bmpz 20-90 from the Romanian Astra are an exception: they have entertainment touchscreen like airliners, the same that also equip the buses of Regiojet. This was the first railway european company to do that in 2017, as no railway company had yet introduced this amenities.
At Regiojet, it’s the type of ticket – and its price – that makes the comfort in four levels:
– Business: leather seat in 4-seater compartments, drinks, tea of your choice, wifi and Czech and Slovak newspapers;
– Relax: first class six-seater compartment, drinks, tea of choice, wifi and Czech and Slovak newspapers;
– Standard: seating in classic 6-seater compartments, no WiFi, or 2 + 2 seats in Astra cars with free Wi-Fi and touchscreen entertainment.
– Low-cost: 2 + 2 seats in the greatest simplicity, without any service, thanks to the Swiss eurocity cars sold by SBB!
There are no exclusive and limited special offers that are only valid for a few passengers and must be booked weeks in advance, like in others railways. Even until a few minutes before the departure of a RegioJet ticket, the same price is applied unless the train is complete. All passengers enjoy full service on RegioJet.
>>> See more pictures of Regiojet trains (in french)
Despite of various confusions related to the local politics, where Radim Jančura makes some enemies, the business works. Rapidly, the capacity of the trains increased from 240 to 400 places in 2012, with trains every two hours. RegioJet works in open access, and competes not only face to CD’s railways, which also works their own Intercity, but also a third concurrent, Leo-Express. In total, including the public company, the Prague-Ostrava route is operated by three operators: 5 LEO-Express trains, 11 Regiojet and 10 Ceske Drahy, 26 pairs of trains per working day, which is considerable for a small country like the Czech Republic. Implacable observation: the CDs reacted with marketing, modern equipment and tariff cuts, that prove that the Czech railway public service was not put to death.
There are also details that matter. If Regiojet is to be self-financing on the Prague-Ostrava route, like all the carriers present, a dispute occured concerning the subsidies for student tickets. They use the four comfort classes offered by Regiojet. The Ministry of Transport investigated the private firm, noting that, although notified as « second class », cars offering the Business and Relax classes, formerly ÖBB first, could be considered as first class disguised in Czech Republic. According the ministery, in this case, the « student » grant did not apply … Accused of receiving more subsidies than needed from the state in 2014, Radim Jančura replied that « state compensation for social groups represents only 8% of my tariff range. The Czech railways of the entire network receive a total compensation of 255% of the tariff revenue, even for the long distance services that we operate without operating subsidies. Certainly, the amount paid by the State for the compensation of discounted rates is not small, but it is thirty times lower than what it pays to the state carrier. » In any case, Regiojet’s most expensive ticket is well below the first-class tariffs of CDs, the public company.
Since then, business has progressed to Slovakia (Kocise and Bratislava) and to Austria to Vienna, extending an existing service to Breclav, close to the border. To enter Austria, Regiojet uses services from BGK (Bahn Graz-Köflach), which is the company that provides the technical service in Austria for Regiojet (request train paths, train management, maintenance …). In Vienna-Hauptbahnhof, the arrival of Regiojet on December 10, 2017, with its four Vienna-Prague round trips for 19 euros, has provoke some tensions with the ÖBB regarding the allocation of a sales area in the main austrian station. A case reminiscent of the setbacks of NTV-Italo on access to Italian stations … In two months of launching, nearly 120,000 passengers had boarded the yellow trains of the Czech private company, with a young and university clientele.
In 2017, nearly 4 million travelers choose Regiojet. For the first nine months of 2018, the company recorded a 30% increase with 4 million passengers, which is attributed to the new route Prague-Brno-Vienna. This connection alone attracted nearly 700,000 travelers over the same period, which proves that the opening of markets generates a strong modal shift. At this rate, Regiojet could close the year 2018 by exceeding 5 million travellers, an average increase of 25%…
As the ticketing is mainly digital, one can easily imagine the mass of data that passes through the servers of the company, a gold mine for marketing. The Regiojet brand is spreading on many websites outside the continent, attracting tourists from Vienna to Prague on their trip to Europe. In late November Aleš Ondrůj, the company spokesman, told the local press that « RegioJet is gradually becoming the main carrier on the Prague – Brno – Bratislava / Vienna line [as well as soon] on Prague – Ostrava – Košice, where RegioJet is [today] the main carrier. » It should be noted however that the state-owned company CD aligns in front 7 CD Railjets on the same line Prague-Vienna, bringing to 11 the round trips available between the two capitals.
With the success of his trains services, Radim Jančura sells his buses and wants to concentrate exclusively on the railway. In the near future, the company will be able to count on the new public service concession which operates from December 2019, and for 8 years, on a regional network – what is new – for the line R8 Brno – Přerov – Ostrava – Bohumín. As the state-owned company CD presented an offer of 2.22 billion crowns, Regiojet had responded with a project 50 million cheaper …
The Czech Republic, which was not really expected on the european railway open access, is an instructive example of the opening of long-distance passenger rail markets. It is time for the big German neighbor, who opened his regional market so well, to become aware of this reality …