French rail cooperative acquires operating licence

08 Nov 2021

France’s first rail cooperative, Railcoop, is one step closer to running both passenger and freight trains after being granted a license to operate trains.

Set up in 2019, Railcoop is a cooperative society of collective interest (SCIC) that brings together local people, companies, associations and local authorities. The project was developed by various professionals involved in the railway sector, local development and sustainability initiatives.

They chose the cooperative business model to ensure all stakeholders had an equal say in designing rail services adapted to the needs of all regions. The cooperative is currently run by an operational team of 15 people with input from individual members via regional and thematic regular meetings.

Since taking off, Railcoop has attracted over 9,600 member owners. To join individuals must pay a minimum membership fee of €100 while local authorities located on a freight or passenger line must pay a minimum membership fee of 50 cents per inhabitant. As a SCIC, Railcoop will have to direct part of its surpluses to its reserves.

Railcoop says it aims to allow everyone to get involved by promoting a model with ecological, economic, social and democratic values.

Nicolas Debaisieux, Chief Executive Officer of Railcoop says: “Through Railcoop, it is the first time that citizens, railway workers, companies and local communities are working together to reinvent the train.”

He added: “We are reinventing the everyday train to bring people together. The train can be much more than a means of transport.”

Railcoop’s main aim is not to compete with SNCF, the public sector rail operator, but to take market share from road traffic and allow isolated communities to be better connected. In France 90% of people currently live within 10km of a train station but 30% of existing stations are unserved. That is why the cooperative chose Bordeaux-Lyon to be its first passenger route, attempting to connect two major cities that have no direct lines between them. Railcoop has big plans for the future – it is exploring offering passenger lines between Rennes and Toulouse, and Lyon and Thionville – and hopes to establish itself in the French and European railway landscape.

Photo: Railcoop ambassadors, crédit Lucas-Madebos