Train on average twice as expensive as flight, shows Greenpeace analysis

Airplane journeys on average emit around 5 times more CO2 than a train journey

Comparing prices of train versus plane tickets on 112 routes in Europe, the results of a Greenpeace analysis confirm what many people think: the train is often more expensive, and in some cases, a lot more expensive. “It is high time to make rail more affordable than flying across Europe.”

Greenpeace analysed 112 European routes on 9 different days for each route, comparing air and rail fares. “The analysis shows the extent to which European citizens are being encouraged to fly”, says Greenpeace. It also identifies the reasons for the “outrageous price differences” and proposes solutions to make rail competitive on all routes.

Routes in the 27 European countries were included, plus Switzerland, Norway and the United Kingdom, but minus the islands Malta, Cyprus and Ireland. In the majority (79 out of 112) of routes analysed, flights were cheaper than rail on average of the 9 days. While the results do not paint a good picture for rail, it does not mean that the train is always more expensive. In general, the train was on average cheaper on 29 per cent of the routes. And as always with averages, very high prices can greatly raise the average. In the report, a detailed overview per country and all routes can be found.

“Hopefully the results do not discourage people from taking the train”, says a Greenpeace spokesperson to RailTech. “For most routes, it is still worth checking the train prices, especially when the booking is made more than 1 month in advance, since train companies also have some cheap long-term offers (though, less than airlines). Also, we are optimistic that the rail situation will be improved in the course of the coming months and years.”

Planes emit on average 4.84 times more green house gas emissions than trains, according to data from the European Environment Agency, which according to Greenpeace, is a “conservative, low estimate”. “Citizens deserve to have access to a clean, efficient, and affordable transport system that does not harm the climate, people, and our planet.”

Large differences across Europe

As can be seen in the map below, the differences across countries and the underlying routes are large. Routes to, from and within the UK are the most expensive by train, compared to the same route by plane. On all 9 international routes analysed from the UK, the flight is always clearly cheaper, except for London–Brussels, where the train is cheaper for 2 out of 9 trips, showed the analysis. From all train routes analysed, the Eurostar showed the highest prices. Also, out of all 112 routes analysed, the route with the largest average price difference was London-Barcelona, where the train journey was 10.3 times more expensive. As Greenpeace puts it: “Why would anyone take the train from London to Barcelona and pay up to 384 euros when air tickets are available for the ridiculously low price of 12.99?”

In many cases, transfer flights via the UK with Ryanair and easyJet were also found the cheapest way for quite some routes, such as Amsterdam – Warsaw or Venice – Budapest. Even for London – Brussels, transfer flights with Ryanair via Denmark were found at a quarter of the price of the train. “These ridiculous transfer flights involving huge detours can cause up to 3 times the emissions of a direct flight, while the train often causes more than 97 per cent fewer emissions on these routes”, says Greenpeace.

In Poland, the train scores the best on prices compared to flights. However, train tickets for most trains to Poland cannot be bought 4 months in advance, which is disadvantageous for trains over planes, says Greenpeace.

The routes included

For which routes were chosen, the availability of routes that can be travelled both by plane and train was the decisive criterion. All destinations have an international airport and a railway station. First of all included are the routes between the capitals of the 27 countries and other European cities over 1 million inhabitants, such as Barcelona, Milan or Hamburg. Also the most used short-haul flight routes which do have a train alternative were included, such as Edinburgh – London, as well as routes between very popular tourist destinations, such as Venice, Nice, Split or Valencia. Lastly, several routes where a night train connection is available, such as Bratislava – Split, Stockholm – Narvik, or London – Inverness were included. 94 routes were cross-border, and 17 routes domestic.

All routes were analysed for trips on 9 days each within 3 time perspectives: short-term; a trip in 2, 4, and 7 days from the day of research, mid-term; a trip exactly 1 month, plus and minus 2 days from the day of research, and long-term; a trip exactly 4 months, plus and minus 4 days from the day of research. Prices were taken only from official airline and railway operator websites. As a disclaimer, Greenpeace says that flights or train connections that are for example operated only once a week, or during specific seasons might be excluded from the data gathering process.

When to book?

The relatively most expensive train tickets were found in the mid-term perspective, a trip one month ahead, plus and minus two days from the day of research. There, the train cost 2.5 times as much as the flight, on average for all 112 European routes.

The relatively cheapest train tickets are the long-term bookings, where the train cost 1.8 times as much as the flight on average. A key reason for this is that for many lines to, from, within, and through Germany, the train tickets were cheapest with long-term bookings, says the report.

Solutions to make rail cheaper

“Trains are often too expensive, but planes are sometimes outrageously cheap”, says Greenpeace. One explanation is the unfair pricing systems that favour air travel over rail, the organisation states. “While airlines pay neither kerosene tax nor VAT on international flights and benefit from subsidies paid with taxpayers’ money, railways have to pay energy taxes, VAT, and high rail tolls in most countries.”

“The analysis also revealed other problems, such as the difficulty of booking cross-border train tickets, with prices varying depending on the operator. Additionally, the unavailability of train tickets more than a few months in advance for some companies and the need to book several tickets with different operators further highlight the need for a simpler ticketing system.”

Greenpeace Austria activists installed a 13-meter-long train in front of the Austrian Federal Chancellery to call for more trains. © Mitja Kobal / Greenpeace

In order to make rail more affordable than air transport, Greenpeace calls on national governments to introduce climate tickets, affordable and simple long-term tickets valid on all means of public transport in a country or a defined region, all trains and cross-border transportation included. “Climate tickets can be funded by taxes from windfall profits, the phase-out of environmentally harmful subsidies or a fair taxation system based on CO2 emissions amongst other possibilities”, says the environmental organisation. In parallel, airline and airport subsidies should come to an end, starting with phasing out the tax exemptions for kerosene.

Greenpeace also advocates reducing or skipping track access charges for trains and introducing a European-wide ticket valid for all means of public transport and more affordable and simpler than the Interrail pass. This rail subscription or monthly ticket could be modelled on the highly successful national climate tickets in countries such as Germany, Austria, Hungary, Slovenia, proposes Greenpeace.

Read more:

Author: Esther Geerts

Former Editor RailTech.com

3 comments op “Train on average twice as expensive as flight, shows Greenpeace analysis”

Manfred Treber|21.07.23|19:43

Fact is that enough and competitive cross border long distance trains won’t come on their own to attract a significant number of passengers from planes – and to reduce emissions. To organise that we need a COMPETENT AUTHORITY on EU level.

Why?
Incumbents have to decide where to invest: In normal trains or in much more expensive (and less profitable) trains capable for cross border connections?

Reactions of incumbents on the TEE 2.0 concept show how they decide on more cross border connections.

Manfred Treber|21.07.23|19:44

Fact is that enough and competitive cross border long distance trains won’t come on their own to attract a significant number of passengers from planes -and to reduce emissions. To organise that we need a COMPETENT AUTHORITY on EU level.

Why?
Incumbents have to decide where to invest: In normal trains or in much more expensive (and less profitable) trains capable for cross border connections?

Reactions of incumbents on the TEE 2.0 concept show how they decide on more cross border connections.

Breck Lebegue|22.07.23|18:40

Externalizing (hiding) true costs by shifting the price from travelers to public ratepayers is a profitable but despicable business practice; comparable to private corporations profiting from public subsidies of some sections of health-care ‘business’. Thanks to Greenpeace for speaking the truth!

Add your comment

characters remaining.

Log in through one of the following social media partners to comment.