Green Rail Travel


High-speed trains
High-speed trains have made multi-destination trips in Europe easier than ever.


There can be no argument that the rapid increase in high-speed train travel has made multi-destination trips to Europe easier than ever. But the trains have also had another impact on European travel: Visitors can pick one central city to stay in and, as long as it has a train station, can visit numerous surrounding areas as day trips, minimizing expenses and maximizing environmental benefits.

High-Speed Trains in Italy

This year will see another major development in Italy’s high-speed train service when NTV launches Italo, a private competitor to the publicly funded Trenitalia trains. The new trains will connect Milan, Turin, Venice, Bologna, Florence, Rome and Salerno with an average speed of 187 miles per hour. These trains will also be the first high-speed trains using Alstom AGV (Automotrice a grande vitesse) engines, reportedly the next generation in TGV trains.


“People used to get Eurail passes and travel for two months backpacking,” says Frederic Langlois, president and CEO of Rail Europe. “Now they don’t want to do that. They want to be based somewhere. They don’t want to go from hotel to hotel with their stuff.”

“High-speed trains save energy,” Langlois continues. “0.3 gallons of gasoline give you 15.5 plane miles, 27 car miles or 90 train miles...It kills two birds with one stone: It’s green, and it’s less money.” Flying between London, Paris and Brussels generates 10 times more greenhouse gas emissions than using the train, he adds.

North American travelers, who generally have less time to travel than their European counterparts, want to make the most out of any trip they can take. Using the trains can give a traveler access not just to multiple cities within the same country, but several countries that are close together. “That’s the case for London, Brussels and Paris. You can have several day trips beyond the country.” High-speed trains can bring visitors in London to Brussels in less than two hours, and from London to Paris in two hours and 15 minutes.

In addition to vacations, Langlois notes that high-speed trains can be used to mix business with pleasure. “People can go to London for a business trip and then take a day off and go to Paris. It’s fast, it’s convenient, and it goes from city center to city center. There’s no shuttle, no cabs and no airport.”

Beyond those three capitals, train tourism is popular between cities in Italy, Spain and Germany. For example, a traveler could stay in an affordable hotel in Bologna, Italy, and be in Milan in just over an hour or Florence in a little more than 30 minutes. Similarly, regular trains can take a visitor from northern Italy to southern Switzerland in about an hour.


Duomo di Milano
Duomo di Milano in Milan, Italy.


Going Forward

Back in 2008, Air France announced that the company would invest in its own fleet of trains for hubs at Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport outside of Paris. These trains would replace short-haul flights, making it easy for travelers to arrive in Europe and immediately set off by land. But the global financial crisis happened later that year, and the project never reached completion.

But Langlois believes that Air France’s initiative is a sign of the future. “Airlines and railroads will have to develop partnerships,” he says, acknowledging that airlines may not have a fleet of trains right away, but that it can happen in five, 10 or 15 years. “We know the market share. If the trip is less than two hours, [trains get] 90 percent of the market share. If it’s less than three hours, it’s 75 percent of market share.

“Trains can’t replace airlines for long-haul travel,” he continues. “We need healthy airlines, but they should use slots for long-haul flights and leave short-haul to rail. In the long run, it doesn’t make sense to compete. It’s not good for the environment, for the bottom line, or for travelers.”


Other Green Steps

If your clients need convincing that train travel is better for the environment than flying, here are some quick facts:

France’s high-speed TGV trains are designed to minimize the impact on the environment, even down to the ergonomic design. The train conductors power off when going downhill, adapting the speed to rail grip-reducing electricity consumption by a third. Light fixtures use low-energy bulbs, air-conditioning adapts to the number of travelers, waste is compacted and wastewater is recycled. TGV trains emit 8.2 grams of carbon dioxide per passenger, while a car emits 144 grams per passenger and a plane emits 120 grams per passenger.