Todo a bordo de un tren clásico, eco-amigable de bajo precio, que promete ser una experiencia tanto como un viaje.
Un billete sencillo de €22 ($23,50 Dls) es menos de la cuarta parte de la tarifa estándar de DB €115,90 ($123 ls). Para ese dinero, los pasajeros de Locomore pueden disfrutar de refrescos orgánicos, de libre crecimiento, zonas del tren adaptadas a personas con intereses comunes y un viaje en un tren reciclado (no me atrevo a decir antiguo) que corre enteramente con electricidad verde de origen sostenible.
Originalmente, el tren de Locomore agració los rieles de Alemania en los años 70 (como parte de la flotilla de nada menos que Deutsche Bahn). Desde entonces han sido renovadas y equipadas con servicios tales como wi-fi en el tren, pero en un retroceso a su período original de servicio, que están pintados de un llamativo color naranja que es tan setentero como la crisis del petróleo. Una vez a bordo de los coches renovados, los pasajeros pueden tomar café de comercio justo (€1,80 por taza), limonada orgánica, cerveza sin gluten, cola saborizada con Guaraná, sándwiches veganos de pan de mijo y carne de cerdo criado a campo abierto.
Esto es probable que vaya muy bien con un tipo particular de alemán. Tan popular es la comida orgánica en el país que una clase de ciudadanos conscientemente virtuosos a veces son referidos aquí como la Bionade Bourgeoisie, en referencia a una marca popular de soda orgánica.
Possibly to enhance the experience for this group, Locomore has divided its train into quasi-social zones themed to attract passengers with similar interests. Current themes (the plan is to change them over time) include photography, sport, and, for those who just want to chat, Kaffeeklatsch (which loosely translates as “coffee tattle”). A special family zone is laid out to grant a little more space for children. Put all together, the train sounds more like some sort of alternative community than a daily train service.
A rail company with a small-scale, experimental approach like this is possible thanks to German rail reforms in the 1990s that separated rail transit companies, who run train services, from railway infrastructure companies, who own rails. This has opened up Germany’s market to some competition between smaller companies such as Transdev and Deutsche Bahn, though the latter still dominates.
The relationship between Locomore and DB is close but somewhat uneasy. Deutsche Bahn will not sell Locomore tickets from station ticket booths, making them available only online. What’s more, the project was apparently too unusual-sounding for most conventional investors, so Locomore has relied on crowdfunding to get its start-up capital. So far over €640,000 has been raised, and the amount is still rising. This alone sounds like a rather low investment threshold to start a new train line, but a Locomore representative wasn’t available to comment on what this sum covers and whether other funding sources are being used. (We’ll update when we learn more.)
So is this the shape of things to come? Yes and no. Locomore’s main competitor may actually be the bus, whose passengers are also similarly disposed to putting price over immediate convenience. A Berlin-to-Stuttgart bus comes in slightly cheaper than a Locomore train (at as little as €18) but requires more than 10 hours on the road, compared to Locomore’s six and a half hour trip. Factor in space to walk around, more comfortable seats and free wi-fi, and Locomore starts to look pretty irresistible.
Still, with just one train going each direction per day, Locomore is not going to be displacing Deutsche Bahn any time soon. To use the service, you need to be flexible. It leaves Stuttgart at 6:21 a.m. and returns from Berlin at 2:28 p.m., and although some intermediate stops (at major cities such as Frankfurt and Hanover) are a little more ideally timed for a mid-morning or early-evening departure, that’s not going to work for everyone.
Germany is nonetheless going through an interesting period of small-scale rail innovation that’s worth paying attention to. Locomore’s current service is just the first of three more planned for 2018, to Cologne, Munich, and the Baltic vacation island of Rügen. Meanwhile the world’s first ever hydrogen-powered passenger train is coming this month. It also won’t replace Germany’s currently dominant model, but provides a small-scale and invaluable alternative.
Europe’s railways have already seen substantial deregulation and privatization—often, as in Britain, with highly negative results. With privatization accomplished, at least projects like Locomore show the positive contribution that multiple rail companies can make in sparking new ways of thinking about and delivering services. The rest of Europe—and the world—would do well to pay attention