Thursday 22 September 2022

An interview with Jörg Ostwald

How to reach true multimodality within Europe - an air+rail love story?

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In the context of the European Modus project, our fourth guest expert is Jörg Ostwald, Head of Product, Services, and Events at Swiss Federal Railways SBB, where he shapes the image, further development and quality of SBB’s long-distance services in Switzerland. Having worked for various RUs in Switzerland and Germany, Jörg Ostwald has over 30 years of experience in the railway industry. He is also chairman of the Customer Experience Working Group and a member of the TopRail Working Group of the International Union of Railways (UIC). Jörg Ostwald is convinced that the discussions surrounding tourism, leisure and sustainability are a great opportunity for developing public transport. In this context, close cooperation between public transport and airlines is of major interest in order to make mobility more sustainable in general.

Seamless and smart door-to-door multimodality and an enhanced traveller experience are a high priority for all transport modes in Europe. Stronger combined air-rail mobility and cooperation will play a significant role in achieving these objectives. The Modus project and other initiatives have been assessing the progress towards multimodality within Europe. It showed that we still have a long way to go in this regard, and we would like to ask you to share your insights on how true multimodality can be achieved.

What are the challenges to improving air + rail mobility in Europe? And what needs to be changed?


  • All parties involved must work strongly towards offering services that are convincing to the customer, make money, and are sustainable.
  • Technological progress, esp. in customer information and sales architecture is important.
  • Customers need to be made more aware of sustainable mobility options, especially in order to reduce CO₂ emissions.
  • There are already some good examples for existing air-rail cooperation.

Some barriers:

  • The complexity of air and rail tariff structures.
  • The unwillingness of airlines to replace feeder short-haul flights by rail.
  • The high-speed rail network is not systematic enough. It has too many gaps and is too slow as a whole. More growth is needed in this area.
  • The punctuality and reliability of the railways need a certain level of improvement.
  • Potential international solutions for luggage services by rail are underutilised.
  • Limited flight numbers for codeshare solutions.

Which current or future business models can enable multimodality?

JO: In Switzerland, 3 different business models already exist:
A. The best possible solution for linking public transport to airports.
It works by airlines, airports and railways giving potential customers all information needed for a sustainable journey to the airport, and this starts with the flight booking process. Trains should be sold like a rental car, a hotel at the destination, or a meal onboard the flight, as they are often a frequent and reliable connection to the airport. Tickets and related services (e.g. luggage) for public transport should already be available on airline or airport websites. This concerns urban, regional, domestic long-distance and even international rail services.

B. Codeshare solutions
Airlines (e.g. SWISS) offer connections in their distribution channels between main railway stations and airports worldwide, sell tickets for the entire transport chain as an airline product (“SWISS Air Rail Service” and take responsibility for the whole process e.g. “Flight XY is operated by ABC rail”. Due to the challenges and the extensive effort needed to support such a system, codesharing should be restricted to connections to well-known destinations where the system will be sufficiently used. A good example of this is DB’s membership in the Star Alliance, the first RU to do so.

C. Distributors
Some airlines like TAP, Delta, or Ethiopian Airlines already use a distributor like AccesRail, who provides rail tickets via an open rail distribution interface (E.g. Swiss Mobility API).

Which infrastructure adaptions are needed to make multimodality a reality?

JO: We need a real international high-speed rail network. Not just building more, but rather making better use of existing infrastructure. Additionally, we need border control / safety solutions for trains to the UK.
For example:
A. The airspace from Continental Europe to London is extremely busy, while the only option for taking the train is the Eurostar from Paris, Brussels or Amsterdam.
B. Barcelona is one of Europe’s most in-demand travel hotspots. Despite having an expensive high-speed line, there are only a few trains a day to Barcelona.
Not every small airport needs a long-distance train station, however bigger airports need to be integrated into national / international rail networks. Parking should also be further out, with easy transport options, rather than there being numerous large multi-storey car parks at the airports themselves.

What should travellers expect in the future in terms of personalisation and required travel services?

JO: As I already said, they should have the option of buying rail or public transport tickets at the same time as booking their flights. There should be solutions for luggage handling and seat reservations
Extra services should be available for First/Business class travellers, such as meals included onboard the train.
Guaranteed travel: customers have to be certain, that in case of disruption, they have a clear solution to the problem (a point of contact, control centre, planned protocols for disruptions, etc).

What should be implemented first in your sector?

JO: With 2 airport stations in Geneva and Zurich and a lot of direct, fast, and high frequency rail connections we have already done a lot. Within the next decade we will also be connecting the EuroAirport in Basel to the network. Moreover, there are direct trains from Switzerland to Milan Malpensa and Frankfurt Am Main Airport. So, our main focus now is to collaborate with SWISS and expand codeshare offers on a national and international scale, to provide better information and rail service integration during the booking process using API, and to improve solutions for luggage. Parallel to this, we are also working with the airports in Zurich and Geneva to improve information and travel for air-rail passengers.

The Modus project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme on the topic SESAR-ER4-10-2019 ATM Role in Intermodal Transport under grant agreement No 891166. It started in June 2020 and will run until November 2022.

To find out more about the Modus project or to contact the project group, please use one of the following channels:

Further information please contact Vanessa Perez at

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