Low-budget Train Rail Newcomer Applies Brakes

German crowd-funded train operator Locomore has had a rough start. It is reducing its new low-cost train offerings between Berlin and Stuttgart. But Germany's state-owned monopoly operator Deutsche Bahn shouldn't breathe easy just yet.
Locomore acquired its first train thanks to the involvement of 1,300 people in its crowdfunding operation.

Locomore, a startup that began operating a long-distance train on a busy line stretching across Germany a month ago, has bad news for travelers. From January 23 through April 6, the retro-looking orange train will run just four times a week between Berlin and Stuttgart, instead of the initially-planned seven weekly round trips.

Not quite the roll-out it was hoping. Company founder and manager Derek Ladewig justified this change in the schedule by saying the company needs more time “to deliver the operating quality it has promised.”

On December 14, Locomore’s train made its maiden voyage between Stuttgart, the capital of Germany’s southwestern Baden-Württemberg state, and Berlin via Frankfurt and Hanover. Its launch has led to many excited headlines.

Until then, Germany’s national railway operator Deutsche Bahn enjoyed a monopoly on the 800-kilometer (500-mile) route, but has been often criticized for high fare prices and frequent delays.

Unfortunately, we have not yet achieved the product quality we are striving for. Locomore press release

But the company has found that offering daily trips with just one train posed some technical difficulties. "Unfortunately, we have not yet achieved the product quality we are striving for," Locomore said in a press release this week.

The transportation company will use the three days the train spends at the depot in Berlin to address "infancy problems" such as carriages in the wrong order, iffy wireless internet connection and out-of-order toilets.

Despite the problems, Locomore still hopes to reach its initial goal to break even by March.

Locomore's train runs along a wide arc across Germany in seven hours. That's more than Deutsche Bahn's five-and-a-half hours, but for a fraction of the price. The crowd-funded vehicle is powered with renewable electricity.

"Four weeks after starting operations, we have already welcomed more than 25,000 passengers on board," the company said last week, adding that some services were booked at 100-percent capacity.

Company boss Mr. Ladewig established Locomore in 2007. The startup initially participated in another rail transport project, HKX, which competes with Deutsche Bahn on the Hamburg-Cologne line. However, Locomore left the project five years later. The low-budget train between Germany’s second and fourth largest cities now runs only at weekends.


Jean-Michel Hauteville is an editor with Handelsblatt Global in Berlin. To reach the author: [email protected].