ITALIAN State Railways (FS) has set itself the ambitious target of doubling both revenue and Ebitda under its 2017-2026 Industrial Plan. The plan is based on five pillars: integration between different modes of transport, integrated logistics, integrated infrastructure, international expansion, and digitalisation.
“Most of the growth will come from these initiatives and, just one year after the presentation of the plan, I can certainly tell you that we are achieving our goals,” FS CEO Mr Renato Mazzoncini told IRJ in November. “We will complete the integration of the National Autonomous Roads Corporation (Anas) within FS by the end of 2017. Internationally, we are becoming a large European player in integrated mobility, and we set up the Mercitalia Pole in order to turn our traditional railway freight business into a door-to-door operator.
“In 2018 we will present our ideas to improve customer experience. We are planning something unprecedented for our customers. For the first time, they will be able to arrange a journey with different transport operators from, say, their home in Milan to Palermo, using a single app.”
The plan calls for an investment of €94bn during the 10-year period. “Most of the capital - €58bn - is already available,” Mazzoncini reveals. “€23bn will be self-financed and €35bn has been allocated under the Contract Programme drawn up in agreement with the Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport.”
FS intends to increase the proportion of revenue generated outside Italy from 13% today to 23% by the end of the 10-year plan. Mazzoncini believes this is quite realistic.
“We are already one of the main operators on the European market: first in Italy and in Greece, second in Germany, and we are now in Britain, the Netherlands and France. The goal is to grow from a e1bn turnover to €4bn by 2026. FS plans to enter the US market and has ongoing operations or is actively looking for international expansion opportunities in the Middle East, India, Southeast Asia, Africa and South America.”
Part of FS’ desire to become more international entails operating passenger services outside Italy, such as Paris - Brussels, Paris - Bordeaux, Hamburg - Cologne, Milan - Zurich - Frankfurt, and London - Edinburgh. The first of these - from Milan to Frankfurt - started on December 10 and is being operated in cooperation with Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) and German Rail (DB).
“We are also participating in tenders for the London - Edinburgh service,” Mazzoncini explains. “First Trenitalia West Coast Rail Limited, the partnership between FirstGroup and Trenitalia UK, was shortlisted by the Department for Transport (DfT) for the West Coast Partnership in June 2017. Trenitalia will bring FS’ industry-leading high-speed rail knowledge to the West Coast Partnership. Together with FirstGroup, we will focus on the customer experience and look forward to developing innovative proposals through which West Coast and HS2 passengers will be able to realise the most benefit from our services.
“West Coast Partnership is not the only project where we are partnering at the moment with FirstGroup, we are also bidding together for the East Midlands franchise where we have also been shortlisted by the DfT.”
The first foray by FS into the British franchising market was through the purchase of the c2c franchise from National Express one year ago. Some might regard Britain as a tough market due to the high cost of competing for franchises, the very small profit margins, and uncertainty over Brexit, but not so Mazzoncini: “The British market is considered a key market for expansion, due to its access and competitiveness. We believe that Britain’s rail market provides an excellent opportunity for us to leverage our experience and innovative approach.
“This acquisition is only the first step in our wider strategy to enter the British market. Our objective is to become a significant player in this market, exploiting the experience and skills that have been honed in the highly-competitive Italian rail market. We intend to bring to Britain the quality of service, customer experience, innovations and processes that we are renowned for in Italy. In addition, FS brings its experience and capabilities of infrastructure management and high-speed operation.
“c2c was a unique opportunity to enter immediately, after having been awarded the pre-qualification questionnaire (PQQ) passport in 2015, to have a first test of the internal market. Before the acquisition, we were in talks with several British and EU operators to join forces for future bids and with FirstGroup we have found a proper partner to carry on all the long bidding processes.”
FS also entered the Greek market in 2017 following the acquisition in September of Trainose, the country’s national passenger and freight operator, for €45m. In view of the fact that FS was the only bidder to submit a binding offer, some might question whether this is a sound investment.
“Trainose is mainly a passenger operator with some freight, and I am very happy because the strategy is good,” Mazzoncini says. “Trainose is in a financially stable position and will achieve positive results.” Mazzoncini expects Trainose to record a €130m turnover in 2017, of which €50m is from the state to cover loss-making Public Service Obligation (PSO) services, with a net result of €2-3m.
The €3bn EU-funded project to upgrade the 502km Athens - Thessaloniki main line for 200km/h operation and equip it with ERTMS will be completed this month. “We aim to create a ‘Rome-Milan-like’ service and we are confident that there will be a positive response from the market,” Mazzoncini predicts.
“Trainose needs to invest €500m in rolling stock,” Mazzoncini continues, referring to the Athens - Thessaloniki line. “We have to discuss the conditions for this investment with the government. Currently this line receives a 5% PSO, with fixed ticket prices. We want to be free to operate the line commercially.
“The rest of the Greek network is not bad, but consists of single-track lines with low traffic density. There is probably a lot of potential for freight traffic from the ports to northern Europe.”
Back in Italy, FS spun-off its Cargo Division as Mercitalia on January 1 2017. Mazzoncini says this was done to create a single organisation which can control a larger portion of the freight value chain. “Extended control of the value chain and establishing a single point of contact are critical for success in this market,” he says.
Another example of FS’s strategy to diversify and enter markets is its decision last year to take a stake in the concession operating metro Line 5 in Milan. In June 2017, FS acquired Astaldi’s 36.7% stake in the M5 concession for €64.5m, making FS the lead shareholder in the consortium and heralding the national railway’s entry into the metro market.
“Being a relevant player in the Italian urban underground market is one of our strategic objectives,” Mazzoncini explains. “This demonstrates our growing awareness of the importance of cities for our country, a source of competitive advantage, and the relevance of sustainable mobility in urban areas.”
Proposals to privatise all or part of FS have been mooted for some time. In 2015, the Italian government signed a decree to launch an IPO for the FS holding company as an integrated group. “When I was appointed CEO of FS in December 2015, I was against an IPO of the whole company,” Mazzoncini says. “In my opinion it is essential that RFI [Italian Rail Network - the infrastructure manager] remains public, and the government now agrees with this.
“We have two different passenger businesses: high-speed which operates without subsidy and regional transport which receives 70% support from public authorities. With high-speed, we compete on the market, but with regional transport we compete for the market. Clearly the risk is much higher in the high-speed market, while 70% compensation makes the regional market low risk.
“The regional operation is not of interest to investors, and we have to spend €5bn on trains which completely absorbs the cash flow,” Mazzoncini says. “For high-speed, we have completed the investment in new trains, and it is a cash cow with Ebitda of €700m each year. I think it is possible to put the high-speed/long-distance business on the market by selling about 30% of it, but with some provisos. No private groups can invest in it - only private shareholders each with no more than a 3% stake, so that we remain in control of the company.
“For this option, we would need a new decree from the government. But it is not possible to have a decree at the moment as there will be an election in March or April, so there is no appetite for a national debate at the moment.
“The decision on whether to launch an IPO of the long-distance business is up to the Italian government. Most likely, given the circumstances, the next government will make the decision. However, as I have always said, it makes a lot of sense to launch an IPO of that particular business segment.”
Lyon - Turin project wins a reprieve
MAZZONCINI says the €26.1bn Lyon - Turin high-speed line and base tunnel project is back on track following an announcement in July 2017 by France’s minister of transport, Mrs Elisabeth Borne, that this was one of the major projects to be paused by president Emmanuel Macron pending a review of France’s infrastructure plans.
“During the last Franco-Italian summit, held in Lyon some weeks ago, president Macron confirmed that the works will be carried out, removing all the doubts that had mounted in the previous months over a disengagement by the French,” Mazzoncini reveals. “To improve the access to the base tunnel on the Italian side, we have conducted a thorough project review, which has been approved by the Ministry of Transport, to cut the cost from €4.9bn to €1.9bn.”