The big green trains from Flix could be on their way to the Netherlands

German mobility startup FlixBus is best known for its fleet of large green buses that transport passengers across mainland Europe at affordable prices – similar to Greyhound in the US.

But there’s also a rail-bound version of FlixBus called, you guessed it, FlixTrain. The service started in 2018, after Germany’s rail lines opened to private competition five years earlier.

By mid-2022, the company was serving more than 70 stations along many of Germany’s main rail routes. Flix has also recently expanded its train network to Sweden.

Now FlixTrain has set its sights on expanding to the Netherlands. This week, Flix informed the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) of its intention and applied for rail capacity from ProRail.

The company aims for a start date of November 10, 2024 for an open connection from Rotterdam to Oberhausen, Germany. According to FlixTrain’s, the train also stops in Arnhem, Utrecht, Amsterdam and The Hague application to the ACM.

The requested route includes two train pairs per day, with approximately 500 to 700 seats per train, depending on the season (longer trains will run in summer than in winter).

FlixTrain is an open access operator, meaning it takes full commercial risk, operates on infrastructure owned by a third party and purchases access to selected routes. This differs from state-owned companies such as Deutsche Bahn (DB) in Germany and Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS) in the Netherlands which own and operate much of the key infrastructure themselves.

FlixTrain has become DB’s main competitor in recent years, partly due to its relatively low rates. The company is often 50% cheaper than DB, with a ticket from Cologne to Berlin costing just €5 € 9 compared to about € 45 with the national provider.

They are able to offer such low fares because their rolling stock is mostly old DB trains painted green. FlixTrain is also believed to be backed by its more profitable sister company FlixBus as it tries to increase its share of the private rail market. However, it should be noted that DB still has a market share of 97% in Germany.

Competing with NS won’t be easy either. Despite the fact that the Netherlands opened up the rail network to private competition in 2019, NS still has a monopoly on the rail network and benefits from generous concessions and government subsidies.

Although FlixTrain would like to run throughout Europe in the future, according to Arthur Kamminga, an expert in legal affairs and public affairs at Flix, concessions such as the one to NS are a major obstacle. “If you’re competing with someone who gets subsidy and prioritizes capacity, by definition there isn’t a level playing field,” he told industry publication RailTech.

Kamminga is also a representative of AllRail, a lobby group campaigning for the introduction of ‘fair competition’ in the European rail market. According to the group, the European rail sector needs to become more competitive to encourage innovation, lower prices and “create a more attractive option for low-carbon transport”.

FlixTrain’s application is currently with ProRail, which decides whether the private train operator can share the tracks with NS.