Why travel by train? And why our attitude towards train travel has to change.

The age of constantly travelling by plane has to end, this is why you should travel Europe by train. But what are the realities of planes, trains and automobiles, the costs on the pocket and the environment?

The €/$/£ Cost

Flying still seems somewhat exotic. It’s different. It’s an adventure and despite being the safest form of travel it still has that inherit form of danger of cruising 30,000 feet above the ground. Train travel is more accessible, it’s on the ground, it should be cheaper than flying. However, the reality is very different. Train travel is expensive. Much more so than flying. And the book 2 months ahead to save money mentality that we have with flying doesn’t seem to exist.

A quick comparison on omio.com for example of a journey to Paris from Berlin 3 weeks in advance will tell you that a train, leaving at a reasonable time with 1 change taking 11 hours will cost you around €115, but a flight leaving at the same time taking just under 2 hours will costs you €45. Why would you spend more time and money to travel by train?

Let’s think about the cost for a moment. A train is more expensive but it does get you from the centre of one city to another, a plane (more often than not) does not.

To get from Charles de Gaulle to the centre of Paris it takes a further 50 minutes (if you can jump straight onto a train) and it’ll cost your wallet around 10€. You also have to get to the airport. In Berlin, this is actually very cheap. To Tegel, it is only €2,80. To Schönefeld, it is a little more at €3,40. If you were to get a Taxi it would be at least €25 (I live less than 12 minutes at quiet times from Schönefeld and an Uber has never cost less than €25). A taxi from Charles de Gaulle to Pairs centre will cost at least €40. So where does that put us now?

Flight + Public transport = minimum €57,80
Flight + Uber to airport + Public transport from airport = minimum €72,80.
Flight + two Ubers = €110

On the last example, we are already not far from the cost of the train ticket.

This is of course just an example for Paris and other prices for the train journey will vary greatly. But also so will the cost of getting to and from a station. The cost of travelling to one of London’s airports can be extortionate.

The Stanstead Airport website will tell you that trains will cost as little as £9.45 but you will be very lucky to ever get this price. Normally it will cost you over double that at £19.40. From Gatwick prices range from £12 to over £20. If you want to be truly appaled by train transfer prices, then look no further than a last minute transfer from Manchester Airport to Leeds Central Trainstation costing £29.70! You can book a train from London to Leeds two weeks in advance and it’ll cost you less.

The cost of a rail journey, therefore, is not so much more. Air travel feels often very cheap because the total price is fragmented amongst getting to and from the airport and the flight itself. Train travel from A to B is more of a complete price package.

But the cost of train travel is now changing. in Germany now exists flixtrain.de. Spawned from the startup locomore, Flixtrain now offers super cheap train travel on limited routes across Germany. Trains from Berlin to Frankfurt can be as little as 10€ when booked in advance.

The Environmental Argument

Train in snowy alps
Train through the alps

Principally the environment is now the largest argument. With Greta Thunberg and the movement amongst the youth to change the world for the better, to decrease emissions, be more conscientious and preserve the Earth for future generations, the era of mass jet travel may just be coming to a close. Jet planes are amongst the heaviest polluters. 

Aircraft could by 2050 produce 43 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide, and consume 5% of the Earth’s remaining carbon budget. 

Cars are little better. On a 540km journey a family car will produce around 81.5kg for a single passenger of Carbon Dioxide. A passenger on a jumbo jet will cost around 104,9kg if the plane is full. For a passenger travelling on an ICE train in Europe, it’ll cost the environment just 0,08kg. That means you could make the same journey 1311 times on the train and equal just one flight in emissions as travelling on a plane. If you wish to find out how much your journey will cost the planet visit https://www.umweltmobilcheck.de/ to find out. 

Carbon emissions are starving our planet. The pollutant gases have nowhere to escape to, they do not disappear into space. As someone once simply explained to myself, if you sit in a running car in a garage the emissions will eventually kill you, the world is just a bigger version. Mass air travel, personal cars and heavy industry is filling our atmosphere with toxic gasses and the Earth is starting to cough and wheeze in response. Travelling by train can massively help to reduce the emissions we are pumping into the atmosphere.    

Comfort

Train

Only yesterday, as I write this, was Greta Thunberg pictured sitting on the floor of a German train. She was travelling slowly and ecologically home to Sweden after many months of raising awareness to the plight of the environment to people around the world. But sitting on the floor is a feeling everyone who has travelled on a German train knows, it’s as common as a late or cancelled train in Britain.

Yet if you do book in advance you do get a seat as standard and you should not have this worry of finding yourself seated on the floor having to move every time the train pulls into a station to let people disembark or embark.

German trains are comfortable. You get more legroom than the old standard of the Ryan Air fleet. You can stand and walk around with ease and comfort if you do need to stretch your legs. Many trains have reasonably priced dining cars, especially if you are travelling eastwards within Europe. They are smooth and almost silent and have power sockets so you can continue to do your work if need be. Just book in advance.

If you are worried about the length of a train journey then break it up. That’s what this idea of travelling is about.

Travelling

trains and mountains

Travelling for the sake of enjoyment comes from the idea of the Grand Tour. When the rich would spend months visiting the small towns and villages of Europe as well as the great cities. Spending time in hidden and now forgotten Italian towns, or taking romantic trails through Bavarian hills. Travelling was the pursuit of enjoyment, knowledge, understanding and of course some bragging rights. The age of cheap flights has somewhat killed this.

Planes fly high above, they take you from A to B, but there is no travelling in that. Travelling is, in essence, the pleasure of a journey, not the enjoyment of a destination. If you fly from London to Rome you have flown but you have not travelled. You have not seen the quaint villages, seen smiles on people’s faces or experienced different cultures. You have exchanged one metropolitan world city for another. With train travel, you can do the opposite.

With a bit of reading or following our slow travel blog, you can discover the destinations often less travelled. On the train, you can gaze through the windows and see the countryside and villages pass you by. You can step from the train in new towns and old, meet people and support local businesses. You will rediscover what travelling is about, it’s about the journey, not the end goal. If how we travel today were how we lived our lives, we would only be pursuing our own death not the experiences along the way.

To conclude

So let us take back travelling. Take it back from the influencers and posers, the polluters and the ignorant. Let’s travel responsibly, in an environmentally friendly manner, in the pursuit of experiences and knowledge not for likes and bravado.

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