Expedia to Tackle the UK’s Rail Network. Good Luck With That

Expedia’s pub quiz team must be pretty formidable. How did we reach that conclusion? Because later this year, the travel giant is going to launch a rail ticket service in the UK and its in-house team is now hard at work building a search engine that will analyse rail schedules across multiple train operators in multiple countries so as to give the traveller the best option.

All we can say is ‘good luck with that’.

As anyone who has grappled with the UK’s rail booking service will tell you, you’d need to be a genius to work out the best deal. Mind you, if anyone can do it, then we guess Expedia can. After all, this is a company that is now worth $130billion. And which didn’t even exist twenty years ago.

In true American style, it recently announced that it wants to ‘own every leg of a traveller’s  journey’. And so at some point, those legs must include walking onto a train.  The company wants to launch its new service first in the UK, before moving onto Germany, the rest of Europe and then the US. We guess they reasoned that, if they can crack Network Rail’s timetable, then the rest of the world will be a doddle.

And we should applaud their global ambitions. For a traveller to compare prices and book a rail seat alongside international flights and hotels, all from the same website, will be a real boon, especially if it  highlights those situations where taking a train may represent a better (ie, cheaper) travel option.

And rail travel is, despite our grumblings, both enjoyable and relatively cheap. A recent research study suggested that 32% of leisure travellers use intercity rail in the UK. And probably more in Europe, where their memories perhaps have not been distorted by British Rail.

Expedia’s boffins have acknowledged that building this new search engine will not be easy. Unlike the airline industry there is no global authority that governs it, so railway station codes differ from country to country (The International Air Travel Association ensures there is a standard three letter airport code in place right around the world).

There are also no international standards for seat classes or train schedules. This may be a tad off-putting for most companies but is clearly a challenge that Expedia wants to take up. But as its revenues were up 16% on 2014 to $6.67bn, perhaps it felt it could afford to take a punt.

After all, how difficult can it be?

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