The railway industry is on the cusp of a digital transformation. The increasing number of high-speed trains connecting cities across Europe has made travel easier for consumers. As a result, rail engineering companies have been developing technologies to make the journey smoother and seamless for rail passengers.

One such company is Rail Europe – formerly known as Loco2 – the online booking service for train travel in the UK and Europe, which aims to make rail booking increasingly accessible for international travellers through its app, ERA.

With a carbon count facility built into its journey booking process, Rail Europe carried forward the original Loco2 founders’ mission to ensure travellers choose rail over air travel. According to Rail Europe’s CEO and president, Dau-Khoi Nguyen, the company is committed to prioritising sustainability as trains are the only low-carbon alternative to air travel.

In addition, given how rail travel has the ability to reduce a traveller’s carbon footprint by up to 90%, it’s important for consumers to choose environment-friendly methods when travelling, according to Nguyen.

Alongside boosting sustainability, the ERA app is designed in a way which improves booking experience for both advisors and consumers, the company said in a statement. Speaking to Railway Technology, Nguyen highlights Rail Europe’s main goals in 2020 as well as how it plans to compete with firms such as Trainline.

Varsha Saraogi (VS): How do you plan to compete with companies such as Trainline in the rail booking industry?

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Dau-Khoi Nguyen (DN): Our goal is to continuously innovate by strengthening our platform and our customer services to make rail an easy choice for travel across Europe and improve our sustainability strategies. There are three main goals we have set for making European train ticket booking smoother.

Firstly, enhance technological integration for our B2B customers thanks to the new web platform ERA, which means easy and quick booking experience for agencies and travel operators that benefit from comprehensive and continuously updated offers.

Secondly, be a supportive travel companion for B2C customers, provide a smooth and speedy experience with a multi-language booking platform conducive to 15 languages, 18 currencies, and minimum clicks.

Lastly [we want] to focus on client proximity and responsiveness. It’s important to accompany customers on every step of their journey. This was done by strengthening the platform.

Right now Rail Europe offers rail booking access to 25,000 destinations and 11,000 routes, across more than 30 countries with 50 European carriers, and therefore can compete with any other rail booking service.

VS: How has Rail Europe used technology to enhance the app?

DN: First-class technology is key to success in the rail booking industry. Due to what are often outdated, legacy systems used by train companies, booking trains has been notoriously tricky over the last few decades. The number of types of tickets, varying fares, peak travel times, terms and conditions – it can all bamboozle customers who might decide to fly instead because it’s easier.

The role of ticket distributors is to remove the tricky parts of the process, to simplify it, and remove the barriers to purchase. Rail Europe has fully embraced the rate of smartphone penetration and has invested to ensure the service is mobile-friendly.

ERA was developed as a one-stop-shop providing instant access to real-time European railway inventories to travel agents as well as travellers.

The goal is to continue to invest in and advance the company’s technology to make booking a train as easy, if not easier, as booking a flight.

VS: What challenges did you face while developing the app?

DN: A positive booking experience is all about ease and access, and access means different things to each customer. Some customers like to make a booking in as few taps of an app as possible and some like to speak to an expert, for reassurance.

The challenge was to make the booking process accessible on as many platforms as possible, therefore encouraging train travel, and delivering the associated benefits, whilst reducing each traveller’s carbon footprint.

The digital revolution is making it possible for us to expand the offering of e-tickets and mobile passes. Not all train companies have resolved technology at their end to offer a full range of e-passes. Our digital hub will focus on both booking platforms and customising online experiences to meet the needs of the trade and consumers.

VS: What makes travellers choose air over rail?

DN: Historically, buying a train ticket directly from the train operator was a difficult process, due to a lack of technology, access and support, but the train operators have made massive improvements in the last decade.

When a customer wishes to book a journey involving different train operators, they can do so with Rail Europe quickly and easily, knowing they only have one company to liaise with for after-sales support while choosing from 50 European carriers for their journeys.

For train booking apps and websites, it is important that every passenger feels supported every step of their journey, starting before they have even booked.

VS: What will your main goal be in 2020?

DN: Train travel is one of the most environmentally friendly-modes of transport available. Through the rebrand of Loco2 to Rail Europe, we benefit from a carbon calculator, whereby customers can see how much they are saving in terms of carbon emissions, compared with the same journey by plane.

By making rail travel more accessible we are impacting consumer behaviour which will alter the way people travel in the future. Additionally, the rail distribution market is growing. There is a major opportunity for train travel in Europe, and we want to be a part of this growth and strengthen our leadership position to promote travelling by train as the most sustainable way to travel when visiting Europe.