It’s 06:00 UK time, and the first of my 4 trains of the day just departed. Edinburgh to London, London to Brussels, Brussels to Cologne, Cologne to Berlin. I’ve done this journey a couple of times now and it’s fantastic. It’s slower than flying, but oh so much more comfortable. No arriving hours before your flight, or arriving at an airport that turns out to be a very expensive hour long taxi journey from your destination. For crossing the UK/Schengen border, there’s security and passport checks, but the security feels like it’s pre-9/11. You don’t have to remove laptops, you can take liquids, and I’ve never yet seen a bag be rejected. An Interrail ticket covering my whole journey (save reservation fees for the Eurostar), costs €168 is not at all bad. Certainly affordable for me.
There’s nothing like the freedom afforded by an Interrail pass, either. With the exception of a few special trains (the Eurostar, sleeper trains, etc.), you don’t need to reserve in advance. If you decide, as I might well today, to stop in Brussels for lunch and take a later train onward, you can just do that. Spend an extra €20 or so to get an Interrail with a couple of extra days of travel validity, and you can add a whole extra city visit somewhere in your journey, without even having to decide in advance where or when that might be!
And that’s not even beginning to consider the environmental cost of flying. If I were doing this journey by air, I would be responsible for generating more CO₂ than people in some countries do in a year. By rail, the environmental impact is 10-20% of that depending on how you measure it. The growing flygskam (“flight shame”, from Swedish) movement attempts to educate people on just how much worse air travel is than other forms of transport, especially rail. In Sweden, it’s been cited as having a noticeable impact on the demand for air travel!
But, just as being able to travel at all is a privilege, so is being able to travel by rail. It is more expensive to travel by rail than air, and you have to be able to spend a day of your trip travelling. If you don’t have to work, or can work on a train, that’s less of an issue, but if your work requires you to be in a specific place, and you have limited time off, it’s much more difficult to justify spending a day of that in each direction just travelling.
I know, though, that lots of the people reading this will be in a similar situation to me — able to afford the extra time and money. I think that lots of those people will fly instinctively, without considering rail at all. And so my message to those people is this: your journey can be part of the experience just as much as the destination, and rail travel is just so much more comfortable and fun! Beyond the loyalty programs designed to trick us into buying more unsustainable travel we don’t even need, lies the joyous and romantic experience of traversing Europe by rail. We can move beyond flight shame, to train pride.
One nice trend I’ve noticed is conference organisers giving people instructions for rail travel, and reminding them of the environmental benefits. If you’re one of those people, I very much appreciate your work!