Seven European rail companies and their high-speed subsidiaries plan to link their reservations system and create a new "seamless" network that will compete with air and road travel over international borders. The rail companies are seizing what they see as their moment: Both sentiment and the regulatory climate in Europe favor the reduction of greenhouse gases, an area in which the airline industry -- fairly or unfairly -- is coming under increased scrutiny and criticism. In addition, the aviation system in Europe is becoming ever more congested, and load factors on both five major network airlines and two leading low-cost carriers were north of 80% in June.

The rail companies are taking a page from the airlines and forming an "airline-style alliance." The new rail network, called Railteam, comprises Deutsche Bahn, SNCF, SNCB, NS Hispeed, ÖBB, SBB and Eurostar U.K. It also includes Thalys, Lyria and Alleo, the high-speed subsidiaries. The European high-speed rail network is expected to triple between now and 2020.

Railteam said it plans to invest €30 million (about $41.3 million) to provide connectivity for the rail companies' distribution systems. The project is expected to be completed in early 2009. Fabrice Morel is leaving his post as president and chief executive officer of Rail Europe, which markets European rail travel to North Americans, to oversee the Railteam connectivity project as director of distribution.

A spokesman for Deutsche Bahn said the link will enable a passenger traveling from Dortmund to Paris, for example, to purchase one ticket instead of two. He said Railteam is not currently considering a single-platform solution. The IT departments of the participating companies are working on the linkage, he said. Other companies may become involved, however. Amadeus told TTU that "we are obviously close to each railway in each European market, so it should come as no surprise that Amadeus is in conversations with Railteam, as Amadeus has been recognized as a potential technology partner."

Railteam also is installing information points in the five main rail hubs: Brussels, Cologne, Lille, Frankfurt and Stuttgart. Others will be added at London, Strasbourg, Amsterdam and the main high-speed train stations in Paris in the coming months. The companies also plan to improve coordination of departure and arrival times.

Frequent business travelers will receive "value-added" services, including a rewards program that encompasses the entire network. Railteam instituted a policy, effective immediately, that if a traveler misses a connection between international high-speed trains on the Railteam network, he or she will be accommodated on the next train, regardless of ticket type.