Howard Trinder: Rail entrepreneur on track for a romantic venture

A day in the life: Howard Trinder plans a luxury 'hotel on rails' service to the Danube, but first he must face a Hungarian works canteen
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The Independent Online


Howard Trinder's feelings about air travel are deeply ambivalent. The rail entrepreneur needs to be in Hungary this morning, where his new venture, the Danube Express, will be based. That means he has little choice but to take a drive to Luton airport (courtesy of Mrs Trinder) to catch the 6.35am easyJet flight that will get him to the capital of the central European nation.

He would really rather go by train, but that is a 24-hour journey, and an expensive one too.

"Basically if you were to leave London at 1pm you would arrive in Budapest at ten to one the next day. It would just take too long, and it would cost a lot of money as well. I've got nothing against easyJet, they provide a perfectly good service, but long term I just don't think it is sustainable, what with the cost of fuel going up and the ecological impact that increasing numbers of people flying is having."

The nature of Mr Trinder's last business the travel company Great Rail Journeys happily enabled him to schedule meetings around Europe so he could get to each by train. That particular pleasure is denied him with his new venture, which aims to create a luxury "hotel on rails" that will ferry a well-heeled clientele on land cruises around some of the Continent's most romantic destinations.

The flight also requires an early start, although it does mean that he gets out of what is usually the first job of the day: bringing in the coal that heats his Hertfordshire farmhouse at 7am.


Mr Trinder is met by taxi at the airport for the journey to the factory refitting the rolling stock that will become the sleeping carriages of the Danube Express. They were once used by the Hungarian Postal Service, but like most of Europe's post operators, it has abandoned rail as a means of transporting letters and parcels. The carriages' new use has seen most of the top part of them removed they will have to be re-made from the bottom up to create the luxurious new train's sleeping quarters.

The Danube Express will offer packages taking in a range of cities in central and eastern Europe, and refitting the carriages will cost Mr Trinder's company upwards of €2m each. He has the resources to be able to do this after selling his previous business to private equity buyers for an amount of money he will not disclose other than to say that he netted what was "equivalent to a National Lottery win". That is no surprise, given that the business's turnover was approaching 40m at the time of its sale.

Mr Trinder has headed out to the factory because he wants to keep himself abreast of progress, check on the work and take some necessary design decisions that have to be made before the carriages can be completed.

After touring the work area and meeting key staff, which takes up most of the morning, he stops for lunch at the works canteen. This he describes ruefully as "always an experience". Hungary has a distinct cuisine that is not without its admirers, but its emphasis on meat-heavy stews with lots of paprika is not to everyone's taste. For his part, Mr Trinder says he could do without the rice that is served as an accompaniment.


Mr Trinder has taken a second taxi journey, to the Hungarian Rail Museum Park. He is working in co-operation with MAV Nosztalgia, which runs the museum and itself offers luxury rail journeys. Its involvement is necessary because it has the required rail operating licences needed to get the Danube Express moving. MAV Nosztalgia will also provide facilities such as dining cars, the planned lounge area, staff and other things that Mr Trinder's company will need to make the venture successful.

"We meet regularly to review what is happening, the timescale, hiring of staff and other things like that, all the things that a hotel would have to do really," he says.

"We also try to pre-empt future problems," he adds.

From his side of the business, Mr Trinder is the sole shareholder, which, he says, "makes decision-making an awful lot easier". The meeting is an intense one, and lasts most of the rest of the afternoon.


All the issues have been dealt with and Mr Trinder is free to call in to speak to Peter Hedderley, his co-director.

While the business is solely owned by Mr Trinder, the former has proved to be an essential hire, having helped to set up the company that runs the world-famous Trans-Siberian Express, which snakes across Siberia connecting Moscow and European Russia with the Federation's Far Eastern provinces as well as Mongolia and China, as a private charter train.

A major issue facing thetwo is future hirings. So far,four employees have beentaken on, but marketing hasnot really got under way, not least because Mr Trinder is barred from actively promoting anyrail-based businesses as part of the sale agreement for his last business. That is due to change in the new year as the prohibition runs out, and a major advertising and public relations campaign is launched to promote the new venture.

Mr Trinder, a typically laconic Yorkshireman, says he needed to do something with his money following the sale, because "I just couldn't really sit and spend all my time watching daytime TV, could I?"

After the two have discussed the latest developments, he heads back to Budapest's airport, which affords Mr Trinder the opportunity to deal with the emails and other correspondence that would usually be his first job of the day upon arrival at Danube Express's offices, conveniently located in what were once the stables ofhis farmhouse.


The flight back to Luton brings back all that ambivalence, but as the company cranks up towards the Danube Express's maiden trip, planned for May, Mr Trinder will be a regular on easyJet's Luton-to-Budapest shuttles for months to come. He might not like air travel, but it looks like he will just have to lump it.

He's come a long way since his first company was set up, initially to arrange trips for friends and colleagues at British Rail, where he worked for many years before striking out on his own. However, Mr Trinder still has some way to go before his latest dream becomes a reality.

"We're going to be spending a lot of money on advertising early next year, so we need to get the tours going quickly so we can cover our costs," he says. "You always give the starting price with rail and our tours will start at 1,600, but I'm very keen to promote the all-rail trip to Budapest, although that will cost around 3,000," he says, perhaps explaining why easyJet gets the job of transporting the company's boss to Budapest, at least in its early years of operation.

The CV

Name: Howard Trinder

Education: Spennymoor Grammar School A-levels in maths, physics and chemistry

1969: Joined British Rail as a management trainee with a view to becoming a chartered surveyor.

1980: Qualified as a chartered surveyor

1982: Joined British Rail's Pension Fund.

1987: Became assistant property manager.

1991: Was made redundant; set up Great Rail Journeys withIan Macbeth.

April 2004: Merged with Inntravel; formed Amber Travel Partnership.

20 September 2005: Amber Travel Partnership sold.

September 2006: Commenced funding and construction of new sleeping cars for Danube Express