"When I came into the industry in 1988, except for one or two high-speed lines, it was a declining industry," [Guillaume Pépy, chairman and CEO of Europe's largest high-speed train operator]...says. "Regional traffic was poor, the freight system was disintegrating and the networks were getting older and older. Within two decades we have completely reversed the situation and now there is a widespread feeling that the train is the future of travel within Europe."
Not only is train travel often faster than plane travel, he argues, but he also puts the case that it is more environmentally friendly. With domestic borders coming down across Europe's railroads, he says there is an opportunity to challenge the Continent's low-cost airlines. Initiatives such as Railteam, a joint marketing and ticketing operation with an alliance of train operators including Deutsche Bahn, allow passengers via one website to book high-speed rail tickets on networks across Europe.
"Competition is exciting," he says. "We come from a world of domestic monopolies and for years we spoke about competition but we didn't have it. Now it is here. It is a radical change, I think it's a very good step as it will increase return to the taxpayers who over the years have invested a lot in the infrastructure of the networks and it is good for customers as they will have a wider range of services."
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