Friday 07 August 2020

Take the train for short European trips, air chiefs advise

A Norwegian plane takes off at Schiphol. Photo:

Why fly from Amsterdam to Düsseldorf when it’s cleaner, faster and easier to take a high-speed rail service?  Even the European airline industry is beginning to favour train journeys over short-haul flights, the Financieele Dagblad said on Wednesday.

The European airline industry is a victim of its own success, the paper says. Schiphol airport CEO Jos Nijhuis said he favours improvement of Europe’s high-speed rail network. He prefers the train over the plane on the short run between Amsterdam and Paris, and argues the train is the best means for travel within 500 km. And KLM president Pieter Elbers agrees.

Aviation has cost advantages, such as cheap fuel which is free from excise and value-added taxes. And heavy competition has put pressure on prices. No wonder travellers can fly from Schiphol to London very cheaply while train tickets are more expensive, the FD notes.

Political scientist Hein-Anton van der Heijden goes further. He recommended a ban on European flights in a recent interview with NRC Handelsblad, saying part of the huge subsidies to the aviation industry could be diverted to rail networks, making train journeys cheaper.

Both Elbers and Nijhuis want more people to travel by train because of the fast growth of aviation in the Netherlands. The sharp increase in European flights at Schiphol has made further growth at Europe’s third-largest airport almost impossible. It effectively reached its 500,000 flight movements a year cap in 2017 and this limit is in effect until 2020.


Some respite will be given if shorter journeys are taken by train but this will be difficult as long as the infrastructure lacks development. The frequency and speed of rail connections remains low and rail connections to Germany in particular are poor, the FD says.

One nay-sayer to the train option is Steven Verhagen, a pilot and former president of the Dutch airline pilots association VNV. He admits that replacing short-haul flights by reliable, affordable and efficient train journeys sounds good.

‘The question remains who will pay for the expensive rail lines if they are even payable. The plane can be used anywhere, but the train can’t,’ he told the FD.

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