How Alstom wants to force mainline competition in Germany

TGV Duplex Paris-Francfort in Germany (photo hpgruesen via Pixabay)

02/22/2021 – By Frédéric de Kemmeter – Railway signalling
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(Version en français)

A recent issue of the Wirtschafts Woche, affectionately nicknamed « Wiwo » in Germany, analysed a very interesting phenomenon about high-speed competition.

As is known, Germany has not really followed the chronology of the railway packages to introduce rail competition on its territory. Rail freight was opened to competition very early, as early as 1994, but the Germans did not have intense competition from the mainline sector, provided for since 2010 by European Commission texts. On the other hand, the regional and local sector, which are pure public service tasks, was gradually put out to tender, whereas this obligation only now comes with the fourth EU legislative package. What would have motivated such a calendar? Difficult to say, but we can put forward a few hypotheses. One argument would be that, aware that local traffic is not the most remunerative or prestigious, DB would have preferred to leave « deficits and local political battles » to the Länder to concentrate on the « cream of the railways » which are represented by the main lines and high speed. At one time, there was talk of taking the DBAG group public on the stock exchange, which might explain this vision. Another analysis would like to show that the DB has used regional calls for tender to completely revise the management of his very loss-making and labor-intensive regional sector, putting the staff representatives before the fait accompli: « either we do it cheaper or we pull out ».

Today, excluding coronaviruses, DB Fernverkehr AG manages almost 1,250 daily connections, 250 of which are to foreign countries. That’s represented of 151 million customers a year that the incumbent operator intends to pamper, and which brings in much more money and prospects than other sectors. In this context, attacking DB Fernverkehr as Locomore did (for 6 months), then Flixtrain, is almost heroic. On the one hand because of the overwhelming size of the public operator and the monopoly of its mobile application, which has become an « automatism » among the Germans. And on the other hand, because the DB group seems to enjoy unconditional support in Berlin, so much so that the government talks about trains in the singular, ignoring the other operators. This is a highly controversial subject now in Germany, because there is allegedly a double standard.

This is where Wiwo’s analysis is interesting. In the absence of competitors, it would be… the manufacturer Alstom who could change the situation. How could it do so? By offering its own Duplex TGV, now called « Avelia », to the new competitors and attacking the monopoly of Siemens which is the sole high-speed supplier of the Deutsche Bahn. The French enterprise knows that the Deutsche Bahn will never buy the « TGV », which is the image of the SNCF. It is therefore towards new horizons that one must turn to. « We are in concrete talks with client companies who wish to enter the German long-distance transport market, » said to Wiwo, Müslüm Yakisan, head of Alstom Germany, Austria and Switzerland (DACH). Alstom would therefore take advantage of the « novelty » that a double-decker TGV would represent in Germany to divert Germans from the DB/Siemens binomial. The TGV EuroDuplex is already present in Germany in Frankfurt, Stuttgart and Munich within the framework of the Alleo cooperation. It remains to be seen if among the competitors mentioned by Müslüm Yakisan, there isn’t the… SNCF! If so, the French operator would de facto put an end to the cooperation it so favoured with its neighbours…

(photo Urmelbeauftragter via wikipedia)

However, the double-decker TGV Avelia should be a much more modern train than the current Duplex, whose technical fundamentals date back to 1996. Alstom, which knows that Central Europe is its biggest market, is also trying to get rid of the image of the « TGV SNCF », which is « sticking » on its skin. Competitors don’t want a copy of the SNCF, but a train which meet to German culture and marketing. On the other hand, through this offensive, Alstom is also preparing to face Hitachi Rail’s Zefiro, which will run in Spain and very probably soon to France. Hitachi/Bombardier were able to show what they could produce when the Frecciarossa from Trenitalia arrived in 2015: one of the best high-speed trains in Europe. Hitachi makes no secret of its willingness to sell it to anyone on the Continent. Italy offers the best competitive scene in the world, with Hitachi and Alstom on the ring. Each knows what the other can offer in terms of expertise, contracts and maintenance.

The big question is how the new German competitors will find a place in the Deutschland Takt concept, a vast half-hourly schedule throughout Germany. Although designed at the state level, many see this tool planned for 2030 as something designed primarily by and for Deutsche Bahn alone, which has just won giant ICE orders … from Siemens.

We are therefore heading into an exciting period where everyone is placing their pawns for a new post-Covid high-speed age. We can’t wait to see the rest of the series…

(photo Peter Stehlik via wikipedia)

>>> To read: Wiwo – Frankreichs Doppelstockzug soll ICE verdrängen (in german)

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