Good Business: Kate Andrews, Loco2

Positive News

Imagine if traveling through Europe by train was as easy as taking a flight. We meet the entrepreneur helping make this a reality

Each month, the Good Business column catches up with people leading social change. It’s written by Anna Levy from Impact Hub Islington, an incubation space for socially driven entrepreneurs, and this month she’s interviewing the co-founder of a business that’s trying to make it easier to book train journeys across Europe.

Anna: Can you tell me about what you do?

Kate: I’m one half of the founding team of Loco2.com, a European rail-booking site. Our goal (and our big technical challenge!) is to make booking trains across Europe as easy as booking a flight. Loco2 means ‘low CO₂’ ie low carbon. We want to help people reduce the amount of carbon used in their travels, and have ended up creating some extremely clever software that drastically reduces the difficulties of booking trains in and across Europe.

How did the idea come about?

I was frustrated because I wanted to travel but found it difficult to find any options other than flights. My brother and I run Loco2 together; our parents are avid environmentalists and, despite being keen travellers, they decided to stop flying when we were in our teens and I followed their example. The trouble started when I got the travel bug and wanted to get to somewhere without flying; it was so difficult to find options.

How did it transform from an idea into a business?

Originally, I just wanted to create a site where people could share stories of amazing trips they’d made without flying, and show how fun it was travelling by cargo ship or donkey and making the journey part of the adventure. The real secret to making it all happen though was having an obstinate older brother! Jamie was convinced it could be more than just a hobby.

Is that element of wanting to show the fun side of low-carbon travel still a part of it?

Oh yes! When asked why they choose to travel by train, one of the things our customers always say is that it’s just a nicer experience than flying. Obviously it takes longer, but you can sit at a table with friends, have a glass of wine, take your own food and walk around. It’s so much better than going to an airport with overzealous security, check-in queues, narrow seats and plastic, vacuum-wrapped meals. And it seems the better the trains get, the worse the planes get. With oil being a finite resource, we believe fuel will be increasingly expensive, which means that low-cost airlines are going to find it harder to maintain their cheap prices.

And what have been the exciting things to happen lately for Loco2?

The Guardian newspaper is now using our system to power its rail bookings site, Guardian Trains. And we have just integrated with the German rail network Deutsche Bahn to offer German rail booking to the UK market. This makes us the only company in the UK to have integrated with Europe’s two biggest operators (the other is SNCF via their UK subsidiary Rail Europe). The more partnerships like this we have, the easier it is for our customers to compare prices and know they’re getting the best deal.
The other very exciting thing we’re working on is trying to get UK rail companies on board. Imagine being able to book trains from Manchester to Milan, or from Bognor Regis to Berlin in a few clicks!

In an ideal world, would nobody fly?

We try not to bash planes. I don’t think there’s any point in saying “don’t do this” without offering viable solutions: you’re never going to get anywhere that way. With Loco2, we hope that by making the booking process more transparent, we can increase competition and bring prices down. There are so many places in Europe that it is really feasible – and a pleasure – to travel by train.

Photo title: Eurostar trains at St. Pancras station

Photo credit: © Flickr member Alan Cleaver

  • Mark

    Unfortunately the problem is not just hassle but cost: we travelled by train to Italy a couple of years ago and it cost us more than 3x the cost of flights. Every time we plan a journey we consider the train but usually end up driving and taking the ferry – which, though still more expensive than flying, is more affordable than rail.

  • Kate @Loco2

    Hi Mark,

    You’re right that price is a barrier to widespread adoption of rail, and that is one of the reasons we started Loco2. The good news is that prices are coming down, though perhaps not as fast as we’d like.

    The liberalisation of the European rail market in the last decade has meant increased competition, better trains and lower prices, and the trend is set to continue. It’s true that some routes will never compete with the astonishingly low prices of budget airlines, but from London there are many destinations which can be reach by rail that are comparable – sometimes cheaper – than flying. And the massive surge in high-speed rail means that even more places can be reached in 5 hours or less.

    We believe that better online booking is a vital component of this change, because the rail market needs aggregators (equivalent to Skyskanner or Kayak for flights) that offer impartial information for passengers looking for good value fares. There are tips and tricks that can help people find cheaper rail tickets, and we think that Loco2 can help. Next time you’re planning a trip, get in touch (with me personally if you like) and I will give it my best shot to confound your expectations.

    Kate

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