he settles on open access and scrutinizes (also) the TER market

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It had begun its first steps on the French market with two other lines, theThe Paris-Milan-Venice night train and the Marseille-Nice-Milan link, both suspended and then finally stopped during the health crisis. But this, in order to finally better grasp another booming segment: that of opening up the high-speed market to competition (open access).

After the launch of a first Paris-Milan line (via Lyon) last December, the Italian rail operator Trenitalia is accelerating: since April 5, it has also inaugurated an additional and direct rotation between Paris and Lyon, and is preparing to offer a total of no less than five daily round trips between the two French cities from the beginning of June.

A logic that aims to seize new opportunities present on the open access market to increase the share of the global cake, according to the CEO of Trenitalia France, the new French entity that will take over from the Thello brand, since the end of 2021, a sign of a renewed strategy for the group:

“The opening up to competition in Italy has made it possible to demonstrate that the arrival of new operators gives the possibility of having more offers and choices and of stimulating demand, thus enabling the growth of the rail market. And that is above all our objective, and not to wage war on the SNCF, but rather to be complementary, ”assures Roberto Rinaudo.

“When Italy, for example, saw the arrival in 2012 of a new operator on the main Rome-Milan line, which is comparable to the Paris-Lyon line, the market has grown by 90 in less than four years. %, all accompanied by an increase in the quality of service. The richer service offer has encouraged more travelers to take the train, rather than using other means of transport,” he points out.

France, the largest European rail market

And what better way than to start with a line that has a double symbol, since it embodies both the oldest TGV line in France, but also the most important in terms of attendance and therefore the most profitable?

“France is a fundamental strategic country in the realization of a development strategy in Europe because it is the largest European rail market, in terms of size, after Germany. In addition, France is a cross-border country located near Italy, and therefore well suited to developing a joint international offer between the two countries,” says Roberto Rinaudo.

Stated objective: to encourage new customers to opt for the train. And if on this subject, the exercise might not seem won at first sight, since faced with the arrival of this new challenger, the SNCF has already offered 24 daily round trips, Trenitalia wants to play on other assets : “ Although there has also been a price drop in Italy, we are not on a price war: the decisive point in this market is rather the perception sent to users that they are paying good value for money compared to the proposed offere”, says Roberto Rinaudo.

Trenitalia has thus set up a system of four different comfort classes, for prices that start at 23 euros (compared to 16 to 26 euros for its competitor SNCF) and which then climb rapidly depending on the occupancy rate of its trains, while its executive class, comparable to the business class of air transport according to the operation, benefits from a price fixed at 139 euros on the Paris-Lyon line and 165 euros on the Paris-Milan line.

The Italian company ensures that it does not, however, only target business class in its business model, of which it is still careful not to share the projections: “our objective is to serve the majority of travellers, whether traveling for leisure, business or study. »

After three months of operation of the Paris-Milan, which already stopped by Lyon (in addition to serving other Alpine stations such as Chambéry or Modane), the operator is already talking about results deemed encouraging: “ We are already recording an average occupancy rate of 87%, which is not bad for a line launched just three months ago”.

Two years of regulatory procedure for a launch

In return, the investment will necessarily have been sizeable because on the “open access” market for high-speed trains, it is up to the operator to invest in its train fleet, and not to local authorities, as in the context of regional trains.

And on this subject, Trenitalia has chosen to acquire five new trains Grande Vitesse Frecciarossa (“the red arrow”), dating from 2014, and which also required investments in order to be approved for circulation on the French network. Although the operator is careful not to communicate the necessary amount, he affirms that it is included in a long entry process, having itself started two years earlier, by obtaining a certificate railway safety in the territory, the approval of its trains on the network, but also the allocation of train paths dedicated to its offer.

Then, like any operator, he will have to pay the rights to use the existing French network by paying rail “tolls” at each passage. “ Differentiated pricing mechanisms have been provided for by law so that new operators can benefit from toll reductions on a temporary basis, the time to absorb the costs of entering a new market. And but this must be approved by the regulator and we are awaiting a definitive return on this subject from the ART “, slips the Italian company.

“The reservation process in France is complex but above all, it is relatively long, because it requires being able to request these train paths at least two before the launch of a line. This is also done by taking into account the interests of other operators present or expected on this market, knowing that the French network is already particularly busy. In the Italian market it is a bit of the same logic, even if the times are a little shorter “explains Roberto Rinaudo.

As for the justly announced arrival of its competitor Renfe, which was finally postponed for a year, due to authorizations which could not be issued for the time being, as for the compatibility of its trains with the network hexagonal, Trenitalia is confident: “ the presence of several operators will further enrich the cake”. As well as the provisions of the Climate Law, which could allow to “boost sales, while also confirming the determination of the French government in favor of the pursuit of an ecological transition policy promoting a more regular rail transport offer”, abounds Roberto Rinaudo.

Use the digital lever

On the marketing side, Trenitalia will not have the strike force of its competitor SNCF either, but it intends to surf on new purchasing habits, by offering a primarily digital experience, associated with two physical reception points, one in Paris, the other in Lyon, as well as a network of automatic terminals installed in Lyon Perrache, Lyon-Part-Dieu and Chambéry stations.

“We rely a lot on digital channels because we wouldn’t be able to have the same power as the incumbent operator anyway. We had to use the lever of digital”, displays its managing director France.

With the line of sight also, the development of a few intermediate routes which could complete its model, since the Paris-Milan will also make two stops in Savoie, in Chambéry and Modane, also passing through Turin before reaching its terminus. “ Routes such as Lyon-Turin or Lyon-Milan seem interesting to us to offer, in the same way as Chambéry-Paris for example”.

But it is also a question, for the Italian, of offering itself, in the longer term, a position to also position itself on the French TER market, which has also just opened up to competition.

The question of the size of the prizes awarded pending

Disappointed candidate in the first opening recorded in the South Region against Transdev, Trenitalia affirms that it will be interested in participating in other regional calls for tenders.

But we will assess things on a case-by-case basis. We remain very cautious because on this market, it is above all each Region that decides on its specifications, and the characteristics in place “, recognizes Roberto Rinaudo.

And unlike the Italian market, a question of size could arise, among other things, because if on the other side of the Alps, calls for tenders are often launched on the entire regional perimeter, this is not the case in France. , where it can be divided into several batches, as we have seen with the South Region, which had notably opened its call for candidates on two different batches.

A choice that could therefore increase the complexity of managing the various stakeholders on the same regional network, but also eat away at some of the volume necessary for the profitability of the rail market, where volume is currently necessary for operators.

We could indeed encounter a market sizing issue, because the rail industry needs major investments and to be able to achieve economies of scale, especially if the regions wish to be able to increase the frequency of services”, slips Roberto Rinaudo. “We will therefore also look at the files that could allow us to create synergies with the high-speed network”.

After the PACA region, it is therefore the name of the Auvergne Rhône-Alpes region, not yet officially a candidate for this type of renewal, which could therefore be at the top of the Italian operator’s priorities, if we are to believe its first positioning on the Paris-Lyon TGV line.