OBB (the Austrian national rail operator) had spent many years operating successful long-distance inter-city services reaching out to the likes of Germany, Hungary, Italy and the Czech Republic, but budget airlines had started to nick both their passengers and their profits. It was time to reinvent their strategy and like many other operators had done across Europe, look to the skies to inspire their new rail product. In late 2005, the concept of ‘Railjet’ was born.
However, in a reverse decision to the like of SNCF and SNCB created brands to directly compete with budget airlines offerings, OBB decided their Railjet product should focus on elevating rail travel above the standard set – making rail a genuinely desirable offer, not just in terms of a getting there whilst saving a few pennies. The business market is a huge travel (and profit) opportunity for all carriers, road, rail or air, right across Europe, and Railjet was aimed to tap in to that, giving business customers what they miss at 30,000ft. Essentially, OBB aimed to create a brand new airline, but keep it firmly on the ground.
It was deemed new rolling stock should be procured for OBB’s new airline-on-the-rails venture, to shift the perception of Austrian rail travel and surpass the varied fleets of commercial aircraft in use across Europe. Siemens had recently supplied OBB with a fleet of Taurus Eurosprinter locomotives for their inter-city services, the quality, speed and reliability of which were much admired, so it was an easy decision to keep these and let them form the power units for the new Railjet fleet.