Launched on June 10 2012, Micotra filled the void left by the withdrawal of Trenitalia's Venice – Vienna EuroCity services in 2009. The two daily return trains are funded by the autonomous region of Friuli-Venezia – Giulia and the European Union, with the support of the Austrian province of Carinthia. Locomotives are provided by Italy's Ferrovie Udine Cividale and coaches from Austrian Federal Railways (ÖBB).
The service was originally due to run on a trial basis for one year, but after a positive response from passengers it will continue to operate until at least December. Over the last 12 months the trains have carried 54,101 passengers, more than 29,000 of whom crossed the border.
This clearly demonstrates that a viable market was cut off when Trenitalia pulled out, and across Europe there must be dozens of similar examples of cross-border routes where a regional market has fallen foul of the withdrawal of international services by an incumbent operator. In The Hague, the municipal government is currently tendering its own train service to Brussels after the withdrawal of the remaining direct international trains to the city last December. In this case, the service is expected to operate with little or no government support.
The liberalisation of the market for cross-border train services allows regional governments to reinstate such links where demand exists because, as in the case of Micotra, they can seek out the best-value options for rolling stock and train crew provision.
Micotra also shows that European Union support is available to regions looking to start new cross-border services. The €1.3m initiative is being supported by the EU's Interreg-4c programme, which provides funding for projects promoting regional cooperation.
The involvement of regional governments in the project has brought a much greater local focus on what cross-border services need to offer to attract passengers. Micotra trains accommodate 150 passengers, but can also carry up to 100 bicycles, reflecting the significant potential leisure market for the service. Close attention has also been paid to the marketing of the trains at a local level.
And because Micotra fills a void in the timetable, it benefits other operators by offering decent connections to cities such as Salzburg, Munich, Vienna, and Prague, making rail a more attractive option for longer journeys.
Another good example of international integration can be found not far to the north in Salzburg where the creation of the S-Bahn network has integrated local train services in Austria and Germany to provide communities on both sides of the border with better travel options into the main regional city. This is the result of co-operation between regional governments in the two countries and it gives cross-border commuters (of which there are many in this area) a practical and comfortable alternative to congested roads. Rail services in the Salzburg area now reflect the geography, demographics, and economic needs of the region, rather than administrative boundaries.
While these examples serve different travel markets, they demonstrate how co-operation between regional governments in neighbouring states can bring renewed focus to nurturing cross-border rail, a market which has suffered widespread neglect in recent years at great cost to rail users.