With a single 1970s train in orange livery and a little crowdfunding, a plucky Berlin start-up is challenging the might of Germany´s state rail operator, Deutsche Bahn.
At 6:20 am (0520 GMT) on Wednesday, the first Locomore train will leave Stuttgart in Germany´s southwest, pass through Frankfurt and Hanover and pull into Berlin, its final destination, some six and a half hours later.
With just one return service a day to start with, compared to the over 700 daily long-distance journeys run by Deutsche Bahn, Locomore founder and director Derek Ladewig knows he barely qualifies as a rival.
But he is hoping to win over Deutsche Bahn customers with budget ticket prices and lure environmentally-conscious travellers from more polluting forms of transport.
“We are offering a new service to compete with the car, the plane, the long-distance bus as well as Deutsche Bahn,” Ladewig told AFP.
Locomore, which bills itself as the world´s first crowdfunded train line, owes its start-up capital entirely to online supporters who chipped in more than 600,000 euros (£510,000) in less than a year to get the project on the rails.
Many of the contributors bought vouchers that can now be traded for tickets, as well as souvenirs such as mugs and T-shirts in the firm´s distinctive orange hue — a nod to the vintage origins of Locomore´s renovated carriages from the 1970s.
The 600-kilometre (370-mile) trip from Stuttgart to Berlin takes slightly longer than with Deutsche Bahn, but Locomore hopes to make up for that by promising its ticket prices will always be cheaper than those of its competitor.
By comparison, Locomore charges 22 euros (£18.39) for a Stuttgart-Berlin ride in January, compared with 115.90 euros (£96.92) on Deutsche Bahn — although the latter´s journey is roughly an hour shorter, and it offers prices as low as 29 euros (£24.24) for travellers willing to change trains once or twice. Karl-Peter Naumann, a spokesman for the passenger group Pro Bahn, welcomed the new player on the block and said the service should prove popular with families, who will be offered their own compartments, and with young people.
The country´s rail sector was liberalised in 1994 but remains dominated by Deutsche Bahn, which carries more than 5.5 million passengers a day in Germany alone and accounts for 99 per cent of all long-distance rail journeys. The state firm has more competitors on regional transport networks, where its market share falls to 72 per cent, according to Mathias Lahrmann of the BSL transportation consulting agency.