New French HST operator to launch low-cost ‘ilisto’ brand

Start-up Kevin Speed will run high-speed trains (HST) in France from 2028 under the brand ‘ilisto’. The new HST operator signed an agreement with SNCF Réseau, the French rail network operator, to get the necessary train paths for the planned train runs.

Specifically, Kevin Speed wants tracks from Paris to the North (Lille), east (Strasbourg), and south (Lyon). Test runs will take place starting in 2026, and commercial runs should begin by the end of 2028. Kevin Speed is a low-cost player, with ticket prices starting from 3 euros per 100 kilometers.

‘Attack prices’

“The more you travel, the less you pay,” said the start-up’s chairman, Laurent Fourtune, promising an offer with price reductions as customers buy more tickets. “With the attack prices we have planned, our trains will be full,” he added.

The main offer, called ‘ilisto’, starts at 3 euros per 100 km during off-peak hours for trains to Strasbourg and Lille, and from 5 euros per 100 km during off-peak hours for trains to Lyon.

20 high-speed trains

The new operator plans to buy 20 high-speed trains from French train maker Alstom. This would allow up to 16 daily rides in each direction – every hour, from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., with short stops in all stations – to be carried out on the three proposed lines.

According to Fourtune, an engineer who has worked for Île-de-France Mobilités, RATP, and Getlink, Kevin Speed needs a billion euros to implement the plans. He hopes to raise enough money by the summer.

Difficult access to the network

Kevin Speed is the only remaining severe candidate in France to compete with SNCF, with HST now open to competition – SNCF’s monopoly ended in 2020 when the open-access competition was authorized. The cooperative Railcoop, which had plans to relaunch the Bordeaux-Lyon rail line, has been in legal restraint since October and is currently trying to revive the project.

From 2025, following in the footsteps of Italy’s Trenitalia on the Paris-Lyon-Milan line and the Spanish operator Renfe with the Madrid-Marseille and Barcelona-Lyon rail line, the Charente-based rail company Le Train plans to set up 25-round trips a day between Bordeaux, Tours, and Nantes.

According to the French Competition Authority, competition in the rail sector in France is still hampered by the “persistence of barriers to entry” for state-owned SNCF’s competitors. Several operators also have expressed doubts about the independence of SNCF Réseau. The latter has the particularity of guaranteeing access to the network for all while being part of the SNCF group.

The findings are no better regarding transport subsidized by the regions or the State. As for the short- and medium-distance TET services and the regional TER trains in France, the organizing authorities (the French State and regions) have had the option of putting contracts up for bid or awarding lines to SNCF since December 2019. From December 2023, however, they will be required to put their contracts up for bid.

Several operators are shying away from the French rail market because of the high track access charges to run trains. The lack of second-hand long-distance rolling stock is also one of the main barriers to new entrants.


Ready to join the conversation?

You must be an active subscriber to leave a comment.

Subscribe Today

You Might Also Like