The French regions will gradually open the TER lines to competition from December 2019. This does not mean that passengers will have the choice between several railway companies: it is the regions that will select their service providers. Transdev (a 70% subsidiary of Caisse des Dépôts and 30% of Veolia) has been operating in Germany for about 20 years, where it is the main competitor of Deutsche Bahn with 7% of the market. An experience she intends to use to get started on the new French market. Interview with his CEO Thierry Mallet.
Transdev operates trains on German regional lines. Is this experience you want to import in France? We are already present in France, with 35,000 employees and a turnover of 2.6 billion euros, more than a third of our global business. We operate in particular on intercity bus lines which, since the NOTRe law, are now under the competence of the regions. We therefore know the French regions very well. Tomorrow, they will be our customers not only for the bus, but also for the train. Our target will be TER lines in the region and Transilien lines in Ile-de-France. We will be able to combine our knowledge of the French territory and the know-how acquired in Germany, but also in Sweden or New Zealand. How?
Our goal is to accompany the regions. As a first step, we will help them in the definition of tenders, so that they can start designing coherent lots [the regions decide which blocks of lines they open to the competition, lot by batch, Ed] .
Then, once the regions have defined their lots, we will participate in the calls for tenders. Our knowledge of coaches and buses will allow us to bring a multimodal approach.
This is crucial because if we want to revitalize little train lines , as we have done in Germany, we have to do a lot of work in terms of quality of service and frequency, but also in terms of connection with bus networks to ensure that there is enough passengers on these lines.
Your organization in Germany is very decentralized …
Indeed, decisions are not made in Berlin, but at the local level, within teams that are both very versatile and directly responsible for the quality of service.
This is one of the keys! On the French market too, we want to set up a very decentralized organization, and this is also one of the points of the current reform on which we are vigilant: it is not necessary that the organization of work that exists SNCF is imposed on new entrants. We do not wish that the opening to competition it leads to a fixed French model, but on the contrary that it allows a more flexible organization of work.
Why ?
Because you have to be able to adapt to each type of line. For a large line, it is possible to place several people on the same train, while on a small line, it requires much more versatile staff, responsible for the entire service. It is also necessary to adapt to the characteristics of the customers, who move for different reasons.
In a maintenance workshop of Transdev in Augsburg, Bavaria (Erol Gurian / Obs)
Versatility, flexibility … You talk about employee missions, their schedules, working hours?
It is essential to introduce flexibility because you really have to adapt to each line. This is what we are already doing on the small line Carhaix-Guingamp-Paimpol: there is only one person on board, who is at the same time a driver, a conductor, who takes care of the reception of people, the small maintenance, which is full of the motor. This is possible because we have more flexibility than the SNCF.
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The organization of work must be adapted to each network. This is true for new entrants, who will arrive on the market with innovations, but it is also an issue for the SNCF, which can thus improve. This is what happened in Germany: today, the cost of the train per kilometer (excluding infrastructure charges) is less than half that of France. Including Deutsche Bahn, which is as efficient as us, because it has become more flexible as well. Competition has allowed it to modernize and retain 65% market share after more than 20 years of opening to competition, against 35% to private players.
Deutsche Bahn remains almost hegemonic. Is this the sign of a failure of opening to competition?
No, it makes sense that the historical operator remains the number one. First, because some German regions have opened up to competition quite recently. The opening to competition has been progressive, and this is also what we recommend for France. The market share of Deutsche Bahn will continue to decline in favor of private operators, very gradually.
And even if Deutsche Bahn – or in France SNCF – continues to manage the rail network, which is a definite advantage over its competitors?
The governance issue is real. If France opts as in Germany for an integrated structure [no separation between SNCF and SNCF Réseau, Ed] it will be necessary to ensure to all companies, whether the incumbent operator or the new operators, fair access to both the network and the stations. In Germany, the regulator is too weak. It does not play its role sufficiently, which obliges us regularly to contentious proceedings against Deutsche Bahn and against DB Netz [subsidiary in charge of the network, Ed] for failure to respect equal treatment. We prefer a strong regulator – it works very well in the energy sector with the CRE (Commission for Energy Regulation). We invented a French model, let’s follow it!
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So the German model is not a panacea?
He is not perfect, no. Governance is an issue, however I consider that the German system is rather virtuous, after 20 years of opening to competition.
Part of the French railway workers categorically refuse competition …
And yet, competition for them nothing dramatic, on the contrary, it’s positive! Our goal is to transfer railway workers to Transdev on a voluntary basis. We will make sure to be attractive so that they choose to join us. Being empowered, having more levers to ensure the quality of service, this makes, in my opinion, the job more interesting. I am sure that many railway workers will be delighted to work at home under different conditions, and I am even willing to pay better to convince them.
With which counterparties? An increase in working time?
No, it is not a question of increasing the number of working hours but of avoiding time-outs. When railway workers do not drive, they can fulfill another complementary and useful mission for the company. They agree not to have one, but two jobs, always making security and quality of service a priority.
Interviewed by Baptiste Legrand

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