History of AERA

Everything from the early days till now

The history of the establishment of AERA

The sale of European rail tickets in the UK has always been a specialist market, confined only to a relatively small number of travel agents, and by the early 1980s, this mode of transport started to become increasingly popular for travel, both from the UK to Europe and within Europe itself.

At this point, a small group of agents decided that time was right for a professional body to discuss railways matters, and eventually to serve the travellers better. The result was, after an initial meeting held in London and attended by British Rail International (BRI) the newly formed European arm of British Rail, that in 1986 the Continental Rail Agents Consortium (CRAC) was formed, initially with half a dozen members.

At the first formal meeting of this new association, it was decided that membership should be open to all European Rail fully accredited agents holding the available tariffs and/or technology systems. Associate membership was open to European Railways and their Representatives, as well as to Tourist Offices.

The purpose of CRAC was to provide a forum to promote the products of European Railways collectively to both leisure and business markets.

At the time of the Association’s formation and initial discussions, the principal supplier in the UK was BRI, acting as a liaison with the railways companies of Europe, and we have to admit that it was not an easy task to ‘convince’ BRI that we were not there to ‘steal’ their business, rather to work with them in better promoting European Rail travel. Therefore after an initial period of ‘uneasiness’ on both sides, a good working relationship started to develop, which was to last until the next decade.

The 1990s saw two major development in European Rail travel, which was going to have a profound effect on our business. The first happened in 1994 and was the opening of the Channel Tunnel and the start of Eurostar services between London and Paris/Brussels. This, of course, saw the speed up of rail connections between these 3 capitals, and subsequently, with the startup of European high-speed services the opening up of the ‘Continent’ to the UK market was a fact, and both leisure and business travellers had now a genuinely viable alternative to flying.

The second major development was privatization. The International arm of British Rail (BRI) was one of the last areas to be sold in the UK and eventually was awarded to Rail Europe, a subsidiary of SNCF (French State Railways) company, who duly took over the responsibilities of BRI. Once again a period of unease and uncertainty started.

At the Consortium’s Annual General Meeting in March 2001 it was decided, after considerable discussion, to change the name of the organisation to Association of European Rail Agents (AERA).

By the start of 2005, the Association has grown considerably, with the UK membership consisting of business and leisure travel agents, tour operators and associates, all dedicated to the European Rail market.

After many years, the purpose and aim of AERA remain as they were, which is the promotion of European Rail travel; this website was created in 2018 and members of the Association continue to be dedicated to the service of their customers in what is now a much faster and more fragmented market