Greenpeace: ‘Most European cities better served by air than by rail’

European cities are still much better connected by air than by rail, according to research by Greenpeace. From Brussels, for example, 41 of the 44 cities studied can be reached by direct flight and only 11 by rail.

Greenpeace analyzed 990 routes between 45 major European cities. Only 12% of those routes are served by direct trains. For direct flights, the figure is 69%—or six times more direct flights than direct trains between European cities. Therefore, The environmental organization is calling for a new EU rail strategy that prioritizes trains over flights and promotes direct connections between European cities.

17 additional train connections from Brussels are possible

According to the Greenpeace report ‘Connection Missed,’ 305 train routes between European cities could quickly be served by a direct train. These train routes do not take longer than 18 hours, which is the maximum travel time of an overnight train in Europe.

From Brussels, all but Luxembourg, Cologne, and Kyiv are accessible by plane. In contrast, only Amsterdam, Berlin, Cologne, Munich, London, Luxembourg, Lyon, Marseille, Paris, Prague, and Vienna can be reached directly by (night)train.

However, Greenpeace’s analysis shows that using already existing rail infrastructure could potentially be 17 additional train connections from Brussels. These include, for example, Birmingham, Bratislava, Edinburgh, Hamburg, Copenhagen, and Zurich (all reachable in half a day), Budapest, Ljubljana, Naples, Stockholm, Valencia, Warsaw and Zagreb (with a journey time of 12 to 18 hours) and popular destinations such as Barcelona, Madrid, Milan and Rome for which mainly short-haul flights are now used.

“Difficult business model”

But there is also a lack of direct train connections on well-traveled routes such as Paris-Rome, Madrid-Paris or London-Berlin. With more than 1 million passengers a year on each of these routes, they are among the most traveled routes in Europe. These three routes could be traveled within 10h30 by direct train.

Travelers could leave Paris by train at 8 am and arrive in Copenhagen at 9:30 pm, but you must change trains twice in Cologne and Hamburg and risk missing your connection train twice.

Moreover, for similar trips, the train is, on average, twice as expensive as the plane. For example, someone traveling by rail from Brussels to Madrid will spend about 388 euros and 16 hours and 10 minutes, including two transfers. The exact route will cost the traveler 50 euros by plane for just 2 hours and 25 minutes.

“Economically, rail remains a difficult business model,” says Professor Jochen Maes (UGent), transport economist at Ecorys, in the newspaper De Standaard, also because the European rail market has become very fragmented. Therefore, Maes believes trains should focus better on comfort and quality to attract passengers. “Unfortunately, railway companies are starting to copy the aviation model: less legroom, scrapping the bar, being there half an hour in advance, etc. That is not the right way to go.”

“Unfair advantages for the airline industry”

“For years, Europe has rolled out the red carpet for climate-damaging air travel and showered it with tax breaks while trains and rail infrastructure continue to rot,” argues Joeri Thijs, spokesperson for Greenpeace Belgium. “European governments and the EU need to correct this historical imbalance by improving train connectivity and comfort and ending the unfair advantages of the airline industry.”

Greenpeace Belgium is therefore calling on the next federal government to increase direct train connections and remove subsidies for aviation. At the same time, Greenpeace is calling for a new EU rail strategy that prioritizes trains over flights and promotes direct train connections between European cities. Tolls for trains should be reduced, and a paraffin tax should be introduced to reduce air travel.

Unlike motorists across Europe, airlines pay zero duty on fuel, and plane tickets sold are primarily exempt from VAT. In addition, Europe’s Emissions Trading System exempts most flights departing from Europe and provides generous free allowances to airlines – 78% of aviation’s CO2 emissions are not subject to a carbon price, according to Transport & Environment.

In general, traveling by plane on the same route in Europe is around five times as harmful as traveling by train, with an even greater difference if the train is fueled by electricity from renewable sources.


Ready to join the conversation?

You must be an active subscriber to leave a comment.

Subscribe Today

You Might Also Like