LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL?

Screenshot Editorial Onboard Hospitality Magazine

Rail catering has been devastated by Covid-19. With an estimated €750m reduction in revenue in 2020 due to the pandemic, Roger Williams, looks at how the European industry is re-engaging …

Past the peak

One by one, countries are emerging from lockdown, creating a palpable sense of relief in the rail industry. As the whistle blows for more train services to restart, our anticipation is rising – but it looks like being a slow journey.

Confused signals

Customer numbers remain understandably low, with many governments still advising against unnecessary travel. News media are also unhelpfully commenting about the risks on public transport, which adds to customer anxiety.

Reduced capacity, restricted train timetables, mandatory reservations and socially distanced seat allocations are additionally suppressing passenger volumes.

Safety first

Train operators have taken significant steps to protect their workforce and customers, whilst catering logistics partners such as RG have helped procure and distribute vast quantities of face masks, hand sanitizer, cleaning chemicals, and PPE, to ensure a virus free environment.

Instilling confidence

That safety message has been loud and clear from railway leaders, such as Vincent Ducrot ceo of SBB and Matthew Golton md of GWR in the UK, trying to instil customer confidence.

UK industry body, the Rail Delivery Group, has also issued a “Safer Travel Pledge”, to be displayed in UK railway stations to give additional assurance to returning customers.

This includes pledges for longer trains to help with social distancing, improved signage, powerful antiviral fog cleaning of train carriages and vending machines for face masks and sanistiser. In return, customers should avoid peak hours and wear a face mask.

Technology is also playing a part with a new Messenger app design alerting people to avoid busy trains.

Green for go

With protection in place and public and staff gradually getting used to new processes, there are some green shoots appearing.

Based on the latest feedback from member companies of IRCG (International Rail Catering Group) about 50% of European train catering is back in operation, although in the UK trains are only operating at about 20% capacity due to the 2 metre rule. A change to 1 metre would help reach about 45% capacity.

Here’s a snap shot of progress so far …

  • UK
    • LNER restarting on-board services July 6th
    • Avanti retaining on-board shops and may serve First Class food from August (tbc)
    • GWR re-introducing limited retail onboard
    • RG has started producing Travel Safe Kits for SSP Retail on stations including face masks / sanitiser, etc
  • Finland – VR reintroducing restaurants cars on long distance journeys June 15th
    • Only operating at half capacity to enable social distancing
    • Station restaurants reopened earlier on June 1st
  • Switzerland
    • Elvetino resuming majority of catering services, including restaurant cars from June 8th
    • International to Italy opened June 29th
    • Services to France and Germany resumed May 18th & 25th respectively
    • Night train services resumed June 25th
    • Full international service by September 7th
  • Czech Republic – JLV back on-board both domestic and internationally
    • Bistro cars on interior from June 8th
    • Slovakian, German and Austrian trains from June 15th
    • CD Railjet to Berlin and night train to Zurich from June 28th
    • Poland and Hungary from early July
  • Turkey – High speed services resumed in Turkey, but no catering provided as yet
  • Hungary – MAV-START international services resume
    • New dining brand with refurbished wagons
  • Germany – DB’s internal intercity services operated throughout but with restricted catering
  • TGV Lyria on board catering restored on July 4th
    • Operating on a limited menu for now
  • Thalys (Paris to Brussels)
    • Increased cleaning; disinfection of surfaces several times a day
    • Mandatory facemasks

Eurostar – limited services to France and Belgium

  • Plans to reintroduce catering September 7th
  • Opening of Paris EuroDisney should help boost passengers
  • 30 furloughed staff in London volunteered to help with French lessons for schools
  • Austria – OBB catering resumption by DoN Travel
    • Night train services resuming at end of June
    • Services to Italy remain suspended (as of beginning of July)

Interestingly, there have also been several recent announcements about post-Covid expansion of services:

  • Swedish Transport Administration plan to introduce a night train service from Malmo to Brussels in 2022
    • Part of Minister of Infrastructure’s plan for Sweden to become the world’s first fossil fuel free nation
  • Rail Baltica
    • Linking Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland
    • Planned to begin operating in 2026
    • To play large role in post-Covid economic recovery of Eastern EU
  • Frecciarossa, “Europe’s longest high speed train ride” in Italy
    • Trenitalia high speed service beginning June 3rd
    • 862 miles (1387 km) from Turin (Northern Italy) to Reggio de Calabria, via Milan, Bologna, Florence, Rome and Naples

All this shows that it’s not quite the end of the world just yet and there is light at the end of the tunnel! Let’s hope the rest of the pre-Covid services open up very soon.

For further information and news about rail catering, market trends, IRCG membership and more please contact roger@thecateringexplorer.com.

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