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The New Age of the Train

February 2, 2010
A European train

Fast track to Europe: the train

You’re off to a northern European destination for business or a short break.  Do you let the plane or the train take (or add to) the strain?

As air travel becomes ever more of a stamina test, whether the delays are due to snow or security concerns, and we’re made to feel environmentally irresponsible for even thinking of flying, trains are back in our good books.  And as this year sees the end of Eurostar’s monopoly on passenger train services through the Channel Tunnel, there could be cost-competitive rival services to choose from, and faster services to some major cities.

But we mustn’t hold our collective breath.  There are logistical matters to be cleared up, so it’ll be a few years before the other operators are steaming ahead.  Also, Air France-KLM’s plan for a high speed London to Paris service this year, with a Paris to Amsterdam connection in the offing too, has apparently hit the buffers – for the time being anyway.

Similarly, Deutsche Bahn has denied reports that it has put in a bid to run direct trains from London to Cologne.  It says it has ‘no plans in the next year or so’, wording which suggests that it’s still very interested.  Perhaps sooner rather than later we can expect to enjoy a smooth passage to Germany’s fourth largest city and home to the celebrated perfume.

Even as things currently stand, a comparison between plane and train journey times suggests that flying isn’t always the much faster option.

Hop on the train in London and you could get to Amsterdam in 5 ½ hours (this calculation includes a 30 minute check-in time and connection times).  Go by plane, and you would arrive in just under 4 ½ hours (including transfer from central London to Gatwick and a 2 hour check-in time).  So the air traveller only beats his train-journeying counterpart by an hour.

Take the train from London to Cologne and you could be there in five hours, only half an hour more than the plane would have taken you.  Once the new rail link using the Channel Tunnel that Deutsche Bahn is toying with is a reality, the journey time will actually be faster than air at only four hours.

Meanwhile, significant improvements are being made to high speed rail lines across continental Europe, all of which cut down journey times.

Naturally, the unknown quantity here is price.  But with the air industry being hit by green taxes, air fares are likely to rise faster than those for trains.  And comfort is a factor for both leisure and business travellers.  The airport queues, the hanging around, the uncertainty caused by budget airline cancellations, could increasingly tilt the balance in favour of the train.

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