International train travel up

Edition 1 February, by Marla Thomson

Travel by train in Europe is – not surprisingly – on the rise. Local, regional and now international travel by train is becoming the preferred method of transportation for many Europeans. The emergence of budget airlines over the past several decades has made traveling more affordable than train travel, but for travel between popular cities within reasonable distance from each other – for example, from Amsterdam to Munich – travel by train is quickly outpacing travel by air.

There are of course the existing advantages of rail versus air travel, such as customer experience, comfort, each of use and time saved. But now the decreasing price of rail travel and rising price of air travel, as well as consumers’ awareness of the effect of CO2 emissions from airplanes on the environment, have made train travel a far more attractive method of transportation than air travel, on routes where this is possible. Convenience has always played a large factor in people’s choice for the form of transportation they will use. Train travelers experience the scenery better by train, and usually leave from and arrive in city centers, so they need less time to get to and from the train. Gone are the long queues at airport security, as train stations usually have faster security procedures. Travelers are also able to break up their trips and add stops more conveniently than with air travel. And given the nature of the trains themselves, traveling with pets, children, bicycles and luggage is easier by train than by plane.

Trains offer more legroom, you can to get up and walk around and often can even change your seat if your neighbor is annoying. The ability to select your own meals, visit the dining car on some routes, and to bring your own food and drink make train travel easier, cheaper and more convenient for travelers. Given the greater convenience and comfort, and the time and money saved, it is not surprising that rail travel is on the rise. With the current global emphasis on the environment, this trend is sure to increase at a steady rate in the upcoming years and decades. European travelers are aligning their lifestyle and buying choices more and more to products and services that have the smallest impact on the environment. The spike in travelers from Amsterdam is proof, with an increase of 9% on routes to Berlin, 12% to Brussels and 6% to Dusseldorf.

Airplanes now account for 4 to 9% of human-originated climate change, emitting most of the CO2 in the upper atmosphere, where it can have even more damaging effects. It is estimated that train travel can reduce these emissions by up to 90% for the same routes, making train travel the prime choice for European travelers. A survey carried out by the NS, the Dutch railway operator, revealed that over 46% of passengers cited the low impact on the environment as the reason to choose train travel, followed by comfort, convenience and time factors.

Railway providers are also jumping on board with pledges to reduce their emissions, as well as their carbon footprint (plastic cups, etc.), which is not possible in air travel. While some of the disadvantages of train travel can be solved – for example, it would be helpful if searching for travel deals and purchasing tickets were more efficient -, the biggest disadvantages of air travel cannot be solved so easily, as there is no alternative fuel source to power large aircraft, carrying heavy loads at fast speeds. Train travel will only become more efficient and time-saving on regional routes and continue to have a smaller impact on the environment, while air travel will have no comparable advantages. Airlines should focus mostly on the routes that train travel cannot service, while proactively supporting environmental efforts in other areas within and outside their organizations. They would do well to allow train travel to handle local and regional routes and thus reduce their environmental impact. Regardless, the people in Europe have spoken: train travel is here to stay.