‘Flight shame’ contributes to a rail revolution in Europe

Let's get the train!/Shutterstock Images

Green awareness in the realm of transport encourages travellers to use trains rather than planes. Airlines are taking note. Dutch carrier KLM has a rail partnership and in some countries like Austria and France airlines are restricting domestic routes where trains are available.

New high-speed routes and operators are on tracks, there are new tunnel links cutting travel times and new locomotives. In Spain, Germany and Austria cheap ticket deals also play a role.

So much rail investment this century—it seems as if the train-ification of Europe’s air transport network is well underway. Surely, it’s only a matter of time before the continent is relying almost exclusively on its iron roadways for getting around and the skies are clearer and greener.

But this is a distant reality and there’s no sign that Europe’s airports are going to get quieter anytime soon.

Aviation as a whole currently accounts for around 2.5% of global carbon emissions, its overall contribution to climate change is estimated to be higher, due to the other gases, water vapor and contrails that airplanes emit.

What’s more, it’s a fast-growing industry – despite the pause enforced by Covid – and is on track to be one of the most significant emissions-contributing industries in the future. Aviation emissions in Europe increased an average of 5% year-on-year between 2013 and 2019, according to the EU.

In 2020 the Austrian government bailed out the national carrier, Austrian Airlines, on the condition that it axed all flights where a rail journey could take less than three hours.

Other European countries are said to be considering curbs on short-haul commercial flights as well – a move that could be welcome, since 62% of European citizens would support a ban on short-haul flights, according to a 2020 survey. Spain has outlined plans to cut flights where train journeys take less than 2.5 hours by 2050.

The debate looks set to continue playing out over the next few years, as the environmental, social, economic, political and technological parameters that shape this discussion around plane and trains continue to evolve – and as the climate crisis continues.

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