As Europe swelters in a heat wave, and the climate crisis accelerates, many travelers are looking towards trains rather than polluting planes. But those wanting to make their travel more carbon-conscious face hefty bills. According to a new report, taking a long-distance train in Europe can cost nearly 30 times as much as flying.
The report, compiled by environmental campaign group Greenpeace, compared the cost of flight and train tickets on 112 European routes on nine different dates.
Train tickets were double the cost of flying, on average, while train journeys from the UK to Europe, which involves taking the often-expensive Eurostar to the continent, were four times the price of flying on average. The same went for Spain, which has a high-speed rail network with four competing brands. Flights were cheaper than trains on 71% of the routes analyzed.
There were also some shocking price hikes. Looking at a last-minute trip from London to Barcelona in May, booking two days ahead of travel, the cost of the train was 384 euros (about $430) compared to 12.99 euros for the Ryanair flight – making the train 29.6 times more expensive than the plane.
London to Barcelona is the third most popular shorthaul air route in Europe, with 3.36 million people making the journey in 2019 according to Greenpeace, which adds that switching those flights to rail would have saved 461,000 tons of greenhouse gases – equivalent to the annual emissions of over 300,000 cars.
“Why would anyone take the train from London to Barcelona and pay up to 384 euros when air tickets are available for the ridiculously low price of 12.99 euros?” the report states. “Citizens deserve to have access to a clean, efficient and affordable transport system that does not harm the climate, people and our planet.”
The countries with the priciest train fares compared to plane tickets were the UK, Spain, Belgium, France and Italy.
The report noted that trains are often cheaper than flights in central and eastern Europe – but journey times, connections, train frequency and standard of services are “usually worse than in Western [European] countries.”
Some railway companies in Europe don’t sell tickets more than two or three months in advance, the report noted – giving airlines another advantage.
Of course, the standard fare isn’t the full picture. Budget airlines charge for seating, checked luggage and even cabin bags in some cases, while flying incurs expenses traveling to the out-of-town airports.
Tax breaks for aviation
Planes, which are responsible for about 2.5% of global planet-heating pollution, emit nearly five times more greenhouse gases on average than trains, according to figures from the European Environment Agency, and aviation was the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions in Europe between 2009 and 2019, increasing by 29% over the decade, according to Greenpeace.
Yet Greenpeace’s figures show that in 2019, the second most popular flight route in Europe was Edinburgh to London – a journey that can be accomplished in around four and a half hours by train, albeit at double the price.
Airlines in the EU are exempt from paying tax on kerosene, while railways don’t get similar energy-source exemptions. Clean transport lobbying group Transport & Environment estimated earlier this month that EU governments lose out on 4 million euros per hour in potential aviation taxes, including on kerosene.
Low-cost airlines are operating on 79% of the 112 routes analyzed. Budget carriers often boast of having newer fleets and less environmentally damaging aircraft, but their exponential growth makes them a major part of aviation’s problematic expansion, Matteo Mirolo, aviation policy officer at Transport & Environment, told CNN last year.
Lorelei Limousin, Greenpeace’s EU senior climate campaigner, said in a statement: “Airlines benefit from outrageous fiscal advantages. Planes pollute far more than trains, so why are people being encouraged to fly?
“Ten euro airline tickets are only possible because others, like workers and taxpayers, pay the true cost.
“For the planet and people’s sake, politicians must act to turn this situation around and make taking the train the more affordable option, or else we’re only going to see more and more heatwaves like the one currently wreaking total havoc in Spain, Italy, Greece and elsewhere.”
The group has urged governments on the continent to introduce long-term, affordable “climate tickets” for public transport, including cross-border ones. They suggest these should be funded by a “phase-out of airline subsidies and a fair taxation system based on CO2 emissions.”
Victor Thévenet, rail coordinator at Transport & Environment, told CNN: “This report highlights once again how unjustified tax exemptions allow airlines to offer absurdly cheap plane tickets, while rail operators must pay a heavy price for energy and rail tracks tolls.
“Governments must remove airlines’ tax exemptions, such as from fuel taxes and VAT, as well as reduce rail tracks tolls. Every hour, European governments lose 4 million euros in aviation taxes that could be reinvested in promoting more sustainable transport.”
CNN has contacted the International Air Transport Association for comment.
Source : CNN Travel