|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.
“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 in Milan, Italy.|
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.”