Train Travel Alternatives

Is competition possible on the Czech railway?

Ryan Scott

Written by Ryan Scott Published on 23.04.2013 10:41:04 (updated on 23.04.2013) Reading time: 5 minutes

Czech Railways’ dominance of rail travel is pretty firm, but not entirely complete. In recent years, a few companies have appeared on the market offering alternatives to the state-run trains. Two of the main new players on the market are RegioJet and Leo Express, both which run services from Prague to Moravia. Though a limited choice, for Prague based commuters, these alternatives might be worth using when the opportunity presents itself.

RegioJet

RegioJet is a subsidiary of Student Agency, which has been well-established on the Czech market for some time. RegioJet began operations 2011, offering a service from Prague to Havířov, stopping at Pardubice, Olomouc and Ostrava.

RegioJet operates without subsidies. In its short history, the company has grown to take about 40% of the passenger market for the routes it serves. This means about 4300 passengers a day. Train capacity is routinely at 80 to 90%.

Those figures in some way explain why RegioJet in the Czech Republic is currently operating on this line. “The reason [for going] on that line is that, of course, it’s the only one real long distance line in the Czech Republic where you can operate trains on your commercial risk,” said the company spokesperson, Aleš Ondrůj. Demand, distance, and passenger numbers all make it economically viable.

The company has also been in talks with Deutsche Bahn about operating the Czech leg of the Prague to Berlin route. With luck, the company will bring its attention to passengers to a line which is often plagued by delays. Operation is scheduled for December 2014.

Mr. Ondrůj claims that customer satisfaction is very high. He stated the level was around 85% based on emails received.

“Mr. Jančura personally reads and replies to all the comments or complaints. And I must honestly say we get a lot of positive responses,” Mr. Ondrůj said.

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Regio Jet
Regio Jet

So what’s the journey like? Mr. Ondrůj was right about the popularity. On the train I booked there were only six spare seats. The journey itself was pleasant. Not long after I sat down I was handed a bottle a free water. The steward also came to collect any empty bottles and cutlery. The wifi worked well and didn’t require any password.

The only two drawbacks in second-class are both laptop related. The first is that there are only two power sockets in the coupes, both located by the window. So if you need one, it is best to book one of the two window seats. The second is that the table isn’t a good size for resting a laptop on. For a few crowns more, it might be worth getting the standard fare to sit in the Relax section, though you should check availability in this section before paying more.

Leo Express

This company is one of the newest arrivals on the market. Currently, they offer a service between Prague and Ostrava. The company offers tickets in three classes: Economy (E), Business (B), and Premium (P). Economy class has slightly different specials. For example, you can use ISIC, ITIC, ALIVE, and In-karta cards in this class. The booking system seemed needlessly complicated, as I had to confirm many times.

Leo Express entered the market on the Prague to Bohumín line because it proved to be the best variant due to the demand for improved services. Train occupancy has steadily grown from 37% in January to 70% in March 2013. According to the company’s spokesperson, Andrea Hofmanová, the passenger satisfaction is above 85% with over half registering as very satisfied.

Leo Express
Leo Express

The train itself was very clean and modern. This is a benefit of being a fairly new arrival on the market. In both business and economy, someone came to take my order as soon as I sat down.

Business class has a few extra perks. The coffee and water are free and the seats are larger and upholstered in leather. However, the price is almost double, so would only be worth it if you really needed the legroom, or if many people would be a problem.

Ms. Hofmanová said the company was planning to expand, but didn’t specify where.

Czech Railways

The introduction of competition has had a noticeable effect on Czech Railways prices. It was reported (in Czech) back in 2011 that Czech Railways dropped the fare from Prague to Ostrava from 438 CZK to 295 CZK, where the price has stayed.

Some newer wagons might go a long way to improve the company’s image. In direct competition with the two companies above is the Pendolino. It doesn’t feel like Czech Railways. The journey is comfortable, clean, smooth, and fast, and you have wifi and get water. However, compared to the other trains, the Pendolino was mostly empty, which might explain why the train is making a loss of about half a billion crowns a year, that and its enormous annual running costs of 200 million crowns.

Attempts are being made to improve services on other lines. New trains such as the City Elefant on the S lines and the Regionova on the regional lines have rolled out in the last few years. Newer planned trains include the RegioPanter and the RegioSharks, which will also boast wifi on board.

Pendolino
Pendolino

Further Competition

It is rumored that the British company Arriva will be entering the market, running trains from Benešov u Prahy via Prague to Kralupy nad Vltavou. According to the local paper, the train will offer a faster service than the current S9, because it will be stopping at fewer stations.

Hopefully, the new player will have the same positive influence on the service and price from Prague to Ostrava as the new companies have. In the short term though, Czech Railways’ dominance seems unrivaled, with competition limited at the moment to one line.

Price and service comparisons: Prague to Ostrava one way

Ticket Price in CZK Extras Discounts for Card Holders
Czech Railways Second Class 295 None In-karta 25 and 50, ČD student card
Czech Railways First Class 687 Newspaper, power socket In-karta 25 and 50, student
Czech Railways Pendolino Second Class 392 – 489 (depending on time). Price includes reservation. Newspaper, power socket, bottle of water and wifi. In-karta 25 and 50
Czech Railways Pendolino First Class 881 Snack, free coffee, newspaper, power socket, bottle of water and wifi. In-karta 25 and 50
RegioJet Off-Peak 239 (or 325) This last minute price is for same-day purchases. Wifi, water, coffee, mint tea and newspaper. In karta 25%
RegioJet Standard 295 Possibility to book ticket in Relax section, wifi, water, coffee, mint tea and newspaper. In karta 25%
LeoExpress Economy 239 – 249 Wifi and power socket. In-karta 25, ISIC, ITIC, ALIVE, ZTP
LeoExpress Business 451 – 638 Wifi, power socket, water and coffee.
LeoExpress Premium 686 – 883 Wifi, power socket, water, snack and coffee.

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