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Rail battle of Prague – Berlin route is coming. RegioJet plans for competition, Ministry selects from multiple offers

Bombarier Traxx on RegioJet InterCity train, Prague, source: CEE Transport/Josef Petrák
Bombarier Traxx on RegioJet InterCity train, Prague, source: CEE Transport/Josef Petrák

Czech railway operators await an important battle in forcoming months. They are going to compete for the bid to run Prague to Berlin trains under public service offering contract. Like for other routes, the Czech Ministry of Transport plans to call for bids to operate the trains from Prague to Czech-German border.

LEO Express already announced its plan to run the trains to Berlin in February. An even more serious player joined the competition recently. Radim Jančura, the RegioJet owner, announced in the latest Forbes issue that he will run trains from Prague to Berlin next year. The company will enter the route regardless if they succeed in the bidding process. They are eager to launch open access in the opposite case.

“This is the main route. It is interesting for tourist as well as business travellers,” Jančura said to Forbes.

Czech Railways have a contract with the Ministry of Transport until December 2019 for this route. They run the trains in cooperation with Deutsche Bahn. In Czechia, the trains are funded by a contract with Ministry. Contrary to it, they are not funded by Government in Germany. The Ministry of Transport informed about intention to sign a new contract with the Czech Railways last year. However, other railway undertakings submitted they bids and Ministry has to evaluate all of them.

According to CEE Transport sources, the Ministry of Transport is going to opt for the same scenario as for the Ex 2 route between (the express trains between Prague and Žilina via Vsetín). The Ministry will ask multiple operators directly to submit their bids and will evaluate them based on economical criteria. They don’t want to award a contract to Czech Railway before a comparison with bids of other market players. The Ministry did not immediately respond to our questions.

The RegioJet spokesperson Aleš Ondrůj did not want to comment on details of their Berlin plan. “RegioJet, that is the biggest private intercity operator in the Central Europe, plans its future expansion and the capitals of the neighbour countries are the priority, where we want to expand our network,” Ondrů said. “We cannot detail are expansion plans, however Germany, Poland and Hungary are next to Slovakia and Austria our key priorities,” adds Ondrůj.

RegioJet wants to operate the trains in cooperation with Deutsche Bahn according to Forbes. Both companies already worked on joint service in the past, however DB selected to continue with Czech Railways instead. ČD has leased Siemens Vectron locomotives to haul these trains.

This is a premium route. Despite that, Czech Railways faced a quality problem with its fleet in the beginning: overhauled coaches from Pars Nova  were very faulty, onboard mechanics accompanied the trains to Germany and fixed the issues along the way. According to newspaper, Deutsche Bahn fined Czech Railways with 200 milion CZK (7,78 milion EUR) in total and the company now wants the Škoda Transportation, the Pars Nova mother company, to pay it.

Deutsche Bahn refused to comment on the next steps until the Ministry of Transport closes the contracting process.

The travel time between Prague and Berlin has improved last years with the end of works on the German network. The potential of the route underline the coach buses along the tracks: there are over 30 bus connections each direction every day. It might happen that there will be one operator with public contract being paid by the Ministry, and other running open access on the same track, with possible restrictions to transport intrastate passengers in Czechia.