RAILCOOP, a cooperative dedicated to relaunching train services in poorly served areas of France, is close to raising the €1.5m needed to obtain a train operating licence.

In mid-February the company had raised €1.3m, and now has 5500 shareholders, including several local authorities, which will be served by the company’s proposed Bordeaux - Lyon passenger service, which it hopes to launch in June 2022.

Railcoop intends to acquire 160km/h class X72500 DMUs, built by GEC-Alsthom between 1997 and 2002, from French National Railways (SNCF), having failed to find suitable hauled couchette coaches. The company hopes to run three trains a day, one of which would be overnight.

The trains operated SNCF’s now-withdrawn direct Bordeaux - Lyon service, and offer a high level of comfort. However, the fleet has a reputation for poor reliability and can be expensive to operate. SNCF is already withdrawing the trains and has sold several to Romania.

Railcoop intends to refurbish the units internally and says its shareholders include people with experience of the trains and knowledge of how to improve performance. However, the company is still examining how they could be adapted for overnight operation.

In the longer term Railcoop would like to buy new Coradia Liner bi-mode multiple units from Alstom, which are currently SNCF’s choice for inter-city trains on non-electrified routes. The company is also talking to Stadler, Siemens and Titagarh-Firema, and hopes to use new trains from 2025.

In 2020 Railcoop’s management team, headed by Mr Nicolas Debaisieux, toured the regions the operator intends to serve, enrolling new shareholders, the latest of which is the Creuse Départment (population 117,500). The department’s main town, Guéret (population 12,500), would regain a direct rail service to Lyon through Railcoop. Another new shareholder is the spa town of Vichy (25,000 inhabitants) although it will not initially be served directly.

Railcoop’s main wish is for the two regions traversed by the service - Nouvelle Aquitaine and Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes - to become involved, both financially and institutionally. Indeed, the possibility of Railcoop passengers buying tickets for connecting services will be important for its success.

Railcoop intends to pre-order train paths for operation between Bordeaux and Lyon via Périgueux, Limoges, Montluçon, Saint Germain-des-Fossés and Roanne in April, with confirmation in September. It will start recruitment of around 100 staff in early 2022.

Fares will be competitive with car-sharing, and as a cooperative, the company expects to plough back more than half of its profits into developing the business.

The company is already examining other inter-city routes which it believes are poorly served at present, including Toulouse - Bordeaux - Nantes - Rennes and Lyon - Nancy - Metz - Thionville.

In the meantime, Railcoop intends to launch a new on-demand freight service between Capdenac and Toulouse during 2021.