Europe's rail networks continue to get more complex and more competitive as national rail operators are being challenged on profitable routes by new companies. In Belgium, for instance, Flixtrain, an affiliate of the big discount Flixbus network, has announced it will begin running a Brussels-to-Paris route as soon as competition opens up at the end of next year.
Italy has already had Italo trains competing with Trenitalia on key routes for several years, and Flixtrain is already going up against Deutsche Bahn in Germany. France, too, is preparing for competition, with national rail operator SNCF creating different tiers of service to compete with newcomers.
All this follows from EU legislation that is coming into effect and which favors what exists in a number of European countries: An infrastructure operator that runs trains and stations, while another company runs trains. That has opened up a market for private operators, to the chagrin of the original operators.
While the new operators say that competition will force better service and lower fares, some observers don't expect a widespread improvement or more competitive fares in general, because the newcomers generally choose to compete only on high-volume routes, leaving the national operator to bear the costs of serving smaller cities and low-volume routes.