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Railwatch 076 - July 1998

Railodges may open next year

The first of a new chain of budget hotels called Railodges could be opened early next year. The £140 million idea is to provide motel style facilities for rail travellers close to large rail stations.

The distinguishing feature of the chain will be its restaurant facilities which will be provided in static railway coaches.

The aim is to offer places to stay for two million people a year, both business and leisure travellers and including families.

Like motels, rooms - called cabins - will be available for a family of four at a price of around £40 a night at today's prices.

"We will not be competing with the five-star grand hotel," said promoter David Wells, who has teamed up with the building company Sir Robert McAlpine. "We will be in the value-for-money sector but we will also offer style, character and originality."

Talks have been held with all the train operating companies which have been invited to market inclusive rail and accommodation packages.

The Railodges follow the success of the Travelodge and Travel Inn brands in the road sector.

But Mr Wells points out that there is a shortage of budget accommodation in Britain, compared to mainland Europe and the United States.

The aim is to set up a private company with financial support from a consortium of backers. Railtrack Property will be a key player in the success of the business and has been invited to be a joint venture partner.

"We have had tremendous support from all sectors of the industry," said Mr Wells.

The first Railodges are likely to open near stations with substantial passenger rail flows and a resident population in excess of 100,000.

The project follows almost three years of research and concept development.

Railodge will be the first dedicated hospitality concept designed specifically for the UK rail passenger network since the advent of the original railway hotels some 150 years ago.

It is intended to play an important role in the development of an integrated public transport system through the 21st century. "The idea behind the concept is to provide, in partnership with Railtrack and Train Operating Companies, an integrated value-for-money, one-stop travel, accommodation, restaurant and business bureau facility under one roof without the need to leave the environs of the station if so desired," said managing director David Wells.

"We have been consulting with the TOCs for some time on ideas for partnership marketing for new combined travel and accommodation products designed to boost off-peak leisure and high-yield business travel, and have held preliminary talks with ATOC to look at the feasibility of setting up a rail travel and accommodation ticketing scheme in the future."

The hotels will be designed and constructed, in effect, as a station within a station and make use of small parcels of redundant or semi-redundant land such as disused trackbed, platforms and docks and small strips of trackside car parking areas.

There will be two design approaches. Some will be built on "brownfield" sites while a "bespoke" version will make part-use of existing structures creating an opportunity for the restoration of elements of railway heritage.

They could be stand-alone units or an integral feature of major station and retail redevelopment schemes.

Passengers will be able check-in directly from platforms or station concourses at most locations.

The main dining for guests will be provided in Mk1 or Mk2 coaches stabled at a specially constructed 'mock' platform forming an integral part of the building and refurbished in Edwardian style.

A separately branded, themed, cafe-bar built in to the main part of the structure will provide a more informal meeting place and refreshment facility.

Each Railodge will feature a number of suites for hire equipped with a range of communications facilities for business and other meetings and a range of other small events.

Mr Wells says the concept can be part of a strategic vision for investment in the national rail network of the future.

His business plan envisages a chain of 100 hotels over a 10-year building programme.

He hopes it will be seen as an example of how station amenities and the overall rail travel experience can be improved in an innovative way.

It also provides the dual purpose for Railtrack of a commercial opportunity to develop a small part of its property portfolio and at the same time preserve it in the long-term interests of the railway.

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