Holidays by train could cut carbon emissions in a post-lockdown world

Reports suggest people feel safer travelling by train.
Reports suggest people feel safer travelling by train. Copyright Pexels
By Rosie Frost
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Trips by rail look to become more popular as tourism gets back on track.


We might not be able to take a break abroad just yet, but reports suggest that once international travel resumes, people will feel more comfortable hopping on the train than flying.

In a YouGov poll commissioned by Sky News, nearly half of Brits said they would feel safe travelling by rail. When compared to how the same people felt about flying, 7 per cent less said they would be confident travelling by plane and 40 per cent reported feeling unsafe taking a flight.

The European Commission already had plans to make 2021 the “European Year of Rail”. As a form of support for the European Green Deal, the move would promote rail travel across the EU with goals to create a network of railways without borders. It is part of a plan to help reach the Commission's aim of achieving climate neutrality by 2050.

With transport making up a quarter of the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions, encouraging more sustainable methods, such as rail travel, is an important part of the changes needed to reach this goal.

“There’s no doubt that railway transport means huge benefits in most areas: sustainability, safety, even speed, once it is organised and engineered according to 21st century principles,” Commissioner for Transport, Adina Vălean said when the proposal was made in March.

A number of restrictions look to remain in place for some time to come, meaning the coronavirus pandemic could give this push for more sustainable travel a boost. Domestic travel is predicted to recover from the pandemic first and for a lot of holidaymakers that could mean travelling by train.

Once international travel is safe, travellers still may not be looking to venture too far afield. Ffestoniog Travel, a company that organises rail tours around the world, found that nearly 85 per cent of its customers were planning a holiday within Europe in 2021. Countries such as France, Germany, Portugal and Switzerland were popular with those polled by the company as destinations for a post-lockdown break.

Ffestiniog Travel
Train travel is set to get back on track in the near future.Ffestiniog Travel

A sustainable way to travel

In 2018, the IATA predicted that the number of passengers travelling by air could reach 8.2 billion by 2037. Before COVID-19, 40.3m flights were set to take off around the world in 2020 but this has since dropped to 23.1m and is predicted to stay low in 2021.

Flying produces greenhouse gasses from the burning of fuel. Most of this is CO2 and many estimates put the aviation industry’s share of the world’s carbon emissions at around 2 per cent.

If people choose to travel by train instead for their future holiday plans, this drop in the number of flights could help minimise the impact of tourism on the environment. Figures from the European Environment Agency show that where air travel generates 158 grams of carbon emissions per mile travelled, rail travel accounts for just 14 grams.

Putting these figures in the context of a real journey, Eurostar commissioned independent research comparing the carbon emissions of a journey between London and Paris. Where the flight led to 64.2kg of emissions, the trip by rail created just 4.1kg.

That’s a 90 per cent drop in emissions to travel directly from the centre of one city to the other. And all without the hassle of airport security. 

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