There are a fair few European startups attacking the travel aggregation space to make it less of a headache to get from A to B when crossing multiple national borders. Just last week, at our very own Disrupt Europe, Wanderio launched its take on simplifying European trips by letting users book planes, trains, and automobiles in one place. There’s also GoEuro taking the multi-modal travel route. But what if you want to see Europe by train only? Then U.K.-based startup Loco2 — which stands for ‘low CO2′ — has your back.
The train travel search and booking startup has been beavering away at the space for years — starting with the idea of creating a one-stop-shop for low carbon travel back in 2006, and slowing building out a rail-booking specialist service, backed by a seed round from low carbon traveller Ed Gillespie in 2009 and angel investment, via the Angel Investment Network, in 2011. Slowly because of the complexity of dealing with monopolistic entities that haven’t exactly been in a rush to change how they operate, having a vested interest in funnelling travellers cash through their own (typically fiendishly complex) booking systems.
Loco2 launched its first commercial iteration two years ago, and went on to secure integration with the French and German national rail operators’ booking systems. These companies have been reluctant to offer APIs to third parties but the European Commission has been pushing through regulation to open up the market so things are starting to move.
Loco2 co-founder Jamie Andrews argues that European geography makes the French and German national operators especially key for connecting up rail journeys around the continent. And, being as Loco2 is the first third party to gain integration with their booking systems, rival travel startups offering rail booking as a component of their service can’t currently offer as comprehensive a service as it can. For certain train routes rivals such as GoEuro simply won’t show up any results, he claims, or will show far fewer results than Loco2 because they haven’t (yet) integrated with SNCF and Deutsche Bahn.
The other big blocker for all European train travel booking startups is getting access to comprehensive timetable data — which rail operators aren’t currently making available. This data is required so the software systems that are integrating with rail operators’ booking systems know which system to query for a given search. Loco2 has come up with a workaround by crowdsourcing data from its own users — harvesting data about journey times and logical routes as users run searches on the site. This then allows it to offer an integrated search-and-booking experience, it says.
Loco2 is now gearing up to cement its forerunner position in the European rail travel booking space by adding integration with the central booking system for all U.K. rail operators, managed by the Association of Train Operating Companies. Adding this piece of the puzzle will mean Loco2 users will be able to book tickets for rail journeys starting from any U.K. station to thousands of European destinations in one transaction — not just to Paris via Eurostar, but to all sorts of European destinations starting from wherever their U.K. home station happens to be.
The U.K. rail service is due to go live on Loco2 on November 12. In the mean time, Loco2 users can see a preview of the new service by signing up for an account at Loco2.com, clicking the link in the confirmation email and then clicking the following link when signed in: https://loco2.com/uk-rail-preview
Although its focus is on pan-European rail travel, Loco2’s integration with U.K. rail operators’ central booking system means it will be able to sell domestic rail journeys — putting it in competition with U.K. rail booking sites such as The Trainline.