Report: travelers want to switch flights to trains, but still too many bumps

Brussels will encourage tourists and business travelers to take the train instead of the plane for trips to, for example, London, Paris and Berlin in the fight against CO2 emissions. It is not always so easy to arrange, shows a recent study from the Consumers’ Association. Business travel organizations have also complained for some time about the effort required to book an international train ticket for customers.

According to an ING report published on Thursday, the European rail sector still needs to overcome obstacles to exploit its growth potential, such as better integration of rail activities and technical standardization. “It can be made much easier and more attractive for the traveller, but more frequency and capacity are also needed. Short-haul flights moving to trains provide more than 80 percent CO2 reduction, and it also creates space for the limited Schiphol.”

Air travel in Europe has grown much faster than train travel. While air transport grew by 5.5 per cent annually between 2010 and 2019, rail transport increased by only 1.8 per cent. Since 2014, with the emergence of low-cost airlines, air traffic within Europe in particular has grown strongly. “Almost a quarter of European flights take place over a distance of 500 kilometers, where trains could be a more sustainable alternative. This could also create space at Schiphol (23 percent of flights here remained under 500 kilometers in 2019, including a great many to London, but also often to Paris and Frankfurt, among others),” the report states.

Trains must compete better
Air travel is often faster, but train travel times could become more competitive with improvements in international coordination and efficiency, says ING. “If you also take pre- and post-transportation and delivery time at the airport into account, then the difference between cities over short distances is ultimately limited.”

A major problem that still hinders international train travel is the complex ticketing system. An accessible international booking system where all relevant trains and connections can be booked is expected to immediately increase demand.

Juliette van Enckevort, head of ING Land Transport: “The train is 12 times more energy efficient and has 5 times less CO2 emissions than air travel. Stimulating and optimizing train routes, which can be time and cost effective, by politicians and industry is therefore a logical step forward.”

Aviation connection
An increasing number of companies and institutions are adapting their business travel policies with a train alternative. For example, the business coalition Anders Reizen in the Netherlands has recently called for business trips to London to be made by train as far as possible. Travelers are also increasingly willing to take the train for city trips if it connects them directly to the city center. “In this connection, Thalys between Amsterdam and Paris is an example of a growth route where the trains already have a high occupancy rate. Initiatives for multimodal travel can also help to increase rail travel – for example, the partnerships between KLM and NS, Air France and SNCF, and Lufthansa and Deutsche Bahn can help stimulate connecting train travel over longer distances to and from airports. For example, a daily flight from Schiphol to Brussels-Zaventem is now replaced by the train, which reduces CO2 emissions per passenger by more than 90 percent (around 110 kilos).

Efficiency and frequency
According to ING, the train has a lot to gain. “To enable further growth of railways on international routes, the capacity and frequency of relevant rail connections must be increased (so that, for example, early or late return flights are also possible). Improving efficiency through better integration of rail activities and technical standardization (including safety systems) is important in this regard. This requires investment. Existing infrastructure will have to be adapted in relevant parts for higher speed trains. New trains must also be built and delivered. It takes time, but that does not change the fact that growth is already possible with the existing spread and increasing occupancy.

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