The train journey from Brussels to London with the Eurostar takes two hours. This was 120 minutes that Austin Widmer and Marius Portmann were able to use to discuss their vision for sustainable travel with participants of the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference. The Zurich-based students and founders of the SimpleTrain startup were allowed to take a ride to Glasgow on the Climate Train and head a panel discussion on the topic of «Ask me anything about rail» for part of the journey. They were accompanied on the panel, for example, by the EU Director for Land Transport, the Director of the Dutch Railways, the Dutch Minister for Infrastructure and the Environment and a representative of the Japanese Railways. It was a unique experience and was «kind of surreal» according to Austin Widmer. «I still can hardly believe with whom we were able to discuss everything.»
Seizing the opportunity
The trio of SimpleTrain founders were invited to take part in this «Climate Train» at the World Passenger Festival in Amsterdam at the beginning of October. And it was totally by chance. «We had a stand in the startup area at which we were presenting our booking platform for train travel,» explained Austin Widmer. In parallel to this, he and his colleagues observed various panel discussions. At one such discussion on the topic of «How to get the planes out of the sky», they struck up a conversation with a Dutch representative of Pro Rail. He told them about the possibility of discussing solutions with decision makers on the Eurostar heading to the United Nations Climate Change Conference and ultimately enabled the Swiss startup founders to take part. The students did not hesitate one bit and seized the opportunity: «To be able to sit at a table with EU decision makers in order to improve international rail travel – that is an impact that we did not expect,» stressed Widmer.
A quick and easy way to buy train tickets
The SimpleTrain project shows how easily environmentally conscious travel with the train can work – even for long-distance journeys. With the help of the Migros Pioneer Fund, the Zurich-based startup set up a booking platform that allows travellers, among other things, to book cheap train tickets for all connections outside of Switzerland in a straightforward manner. Find out more
An approach to solving the complicated process of booking tickets
For Austin Widmer and Marius Portmann, the rounds of talks on the train were a success. They were able to put forward their perspective on the problems in the international train travel sector. This mainly concerned the ticket purchasing system that is complicated and too expensive for journeys that cross international borders. If the railway companies were to collaborate better and look for solutions together, the complicated process of booking tickets would be made much easier. «All of the participants were aware of the problem and know that international train travel needs to be improved with sustainability in mind,» said the student. However – and this is also the fly in the ointment of the whole thing – it is likely that it will take a while before something happens, he continued. «Many of the railway companies across Europe are not prepared to publish their data or enter into collaboration with companies from other countries.»
The Vice President of the European Commission raises hopes
The Vice President of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans, is giving the SimpleTrain founders hope. «He said to the passengers on the Climate Train that the world of politics and the EU will intervene if the railway companies are unable to work together on their own accord,» explained Widmer. Although the approaches to the problems remained at a conceptional level during the train journey, the panel discussion was an important step for the young startup team. «We made numerous interesting contacts and hope to now be able to bring up the topic with Swiss politicians.»
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