Romain Payet — When you recruit a new team member, it's always to fill a gap. It might be to bulk up a team of developers, or build up staff with specific technical knowledge. But in our case, it was about a lack of technical knowledge and experience in the railway industry. Which led us to recruiting Nicolas Bargelès, as explained in the two previous episodes. It’s safe to say that as soon as he arrived, he challenged our vision of Midnight Trains across a number of areas.
The first thing to clarify is that Nicolas has always shared our vision of Midnight Trains; the fundamental concept of the company, as well as its spirit. By that, I mean he didn't come in and say, "Okay, guys, we have to change everything to make this work." He's way too smart for that. Instead, he immersed himself in the engine of our project and pointed out small details that would help improve our operation. Taken in isolation, these points don't seem like much. But altogether, they represent a huge recouping of time and energy.
Adrien Aumont — It’s important to mention that Nicolas challenged us on a fundamental question: should we become a railway company? So: should we operate our own trains or have them towed by someone else? Many companies, especially the so-called "cruise" train companies, aren’t actually railway companies. They don’t put the carriages on the tracks. They manage maintenance, marketing, on-board services, etc.
It’s an option we’re still ruminating on today. Before Nicolas joined us, we had explored the possibilities available to us, and they weren't very attractive. In fact, the market is not really organised to offer this kind of service. When we asked for a quote, they began by billing us for the quote. To tow the trains of a third-party company like Midnight Trains, they would have to set up dedicated teams, and mobilise dedicated rolling stock, among other things. In the end, what we thought we’d gain by outsourcing, we actually ended up losing out on.
Romain Payet — Of course, when there’s a lack of technical skills, subcontracting is the first impulse. But with Nicolas on board, things looked a little different. Becoming a railway company isn’t easy, but it’s much more doable when you have someone like him on your team.
To obtain the status, first, you must be granted a railway undertaking license. In France, it’s issued by the Ministry of Transport, provided the following criteria is met: share capital of at least €1.5 million, passenger transport insurance covering up to €40 million per year, and, finally, the leaders must be recognised as capable of managing such an enterprise. Plus, they must not be the subject of legal proceedings. Once you have the license, you must obtain a safety certificate issued by the ERA (The European Union Agency for Railways) and the EPSF (the French Rail Safety Authority). Broadly speaking, you need to produce documentation detailing all the security protocols, how you’re going to manage them and maintain them over time. These two agencies get to grips with it, exploring the plans to run the trains safely and check that all of this will be sustainable. If they believe it will work and that people's lives won’t be in danger, they give you the certificate in question. The steps seemed feasible to us, if incredibly complex. But Nicolas said it wasn’t as complicated as it sounded - and he knew how to do it.