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Greenpeace compared the prices of air and train tickets on 112 European routes at 9 different times and found that, on average, traveling by train is twice as expensive as flying on the same route. As an extreme example, traveling by train from London to Barcelona can cost up to 30 times more than the price of a plane ticket.
Key facts and findings:
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- The report analyzed a total of 112 routes between European cities (in addition to the European Union, the United Kingdom, Switzerland and Norway were also included in the sample) at 9 different points in time. Of these, 94 were cross-border connections, while 18 were domestic lines.
- Train tickets in Europe are on average twice as expensive as plane tickets, while in Great Britain and Spain the difference is about four times.
- Air tickets were cheaper than train tickets on 71% of the analyzed routes.
- On only 23 connections between European cities, the train is almost always cheaper than the plane.
- Low-cost airlines are represented in 79% of the analyzed routes and are usually cheaper than the train.
- In another 12% of the routes analyzed, connecting flights were cheaper than train travel. Although connecting flights are up to 10 times more polluting than direct flights, it is cheaper for travelers to fly from Budapest to Paris via Bergamo, Luxembourg to Milan via London, Madrid to Zurich via Barcelona and Marseille to Berlin via Copenhagen.
- For some European railway companies, the ticket can be bought up to 2-3 months in advance. This creates an advantage for airlines that sell tickets further in advance.
The best train lines in Europe
Of the 112 intercity connections analyzed in Europe, the train was almost always cheaper than the plane on 23 lines. Of these, only 12 train lines can be considered excellent, with at least 3 departures per day, a high average speed and a regular ticket price of less than €150 (in other words, people have the motivation to choose a train instead of a car). These lines are:
- Berlin - Prague
- Helsinki - Oulu
- Trondheim - Oslo
- Zurich - Vienna
- Zurich - Berlin
- Athens - Thessaloniki
- Warsaw clay - Berlin
- Hamburg - Munich
- Košice - Prague
- Prague - Budapest
- Porto - Lisbon
- Madrid - Barcelona
Train traffic in the Baltic countries
The Greenpeace report also analyzed train connections by country. Regarding the Baltics, the summary is as follows: "The situation between the Baltic states with interstate connections (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania) is extremely bad. It is not possible to cross the Latvian-Lithuanian border by train".
Greenpeace describes Estonian train traffic as follows:
There is no direct train between Estonia and Latvia. The only way to go from Tallinn to Riga by train is to take an Estonian local train to Valka and continue from there with a Latvian local train. Since the timetables are uncoordinated, the only option is to start from Tallinn at 07:41 in the morning and arrive in Riga at 17:45, waiting for 4 hours in the Valga/Valka border station. All in all, the journey of around 300 km takes more than 10 hours. Tickets must be purchased separately from the two rail operators and are only sold up to 10 days in advance. Neither company's website shows the train schedule of the other country. The tickets are cheap, the Estonian part costs 17.34 euros and the Latvian part 5.22 euros, but this train connection is probably not relevant. AirBaltic direct flight tickets start at 37.99 euros.
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A flight from Tallinn to Riga produces 66 kg of greenhouse gases per person. By traveling by train, it could be reduced by 80%. The train connection between Estonia and Latvia urgently needs to be repaired.
Why are cheap flights cheaper than train travel?
If flying is on average twice as cheap as traveling by train, it is clear that people prefer flying. Greenpeace also points out several reasons why low-cost airlines offer cheaper travel options than train travel:
- Unequal taxation: while jet fuel is tax-free and international flights are VAT-free, railway companies have to pay energy taxes, VAT and rail infrastructure charges.
- Lower wages and worse working conditions for low-cost airline workers.
- Low-cost airlines hire workers through agencies.
- Exploiting loopholes in some countries' labor laws. Low-cost airlines sign contracts in countries such as Malta.
- Registration in low tax countries such as Ireland and Malta to reduce taxes.
- Taking advantage of lower fees at some airports and subsidies for new routes.
- Taxation of all additional services.
- Low-cost airlines choose only the most profitable routes and seasons to serve. Less profitable routes and during off-peak times are left to be served (or not connected at all) by train companies and traditional airlines.
Although Greenpeace's reports tend to be slightly oversalted with extremes, attention is drawn to several important shortcomings in European transport networks.
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- The development of train traffic in Europe was an orphan for decades. An important change in approach has occurred only recently. At the same time, the development of train traffic is a costly and time-consuming undertaking.
- Low-cost airlines and train operators play on an uneven playing field. Discounts and tax exemptions offered to low-cost airlines encourage people to use more polluting modes of transport.
- Estonia and the other Baltic countries are completely remote in terms of normal train connections.
Greenpeace report in full: Ticket prices of planes vs trains – a Europe-wide analysis (pdf)