Higher airfares between European hubs and lower carbon emissions are behind a significant shift to trains, with the trend likely to continue for the rest of the year as more rail operators begin competing across borders.
A growing number of businesses are opting for rail travel in Europe, as higher airfares push employees to trains rather than planes.
Lower carbon emissions also prove tempting for those organizations striving to hit sustainability targets, with travel agencies noticing trips of longer than three hours are on the rise.
Netherlands based BCD Travel said one client saw an increase in train market share from 44 percent to 67 percent between 2019 and 2022, with a trip duration cap of four hours.
“This shift is not because of the French government’s decision to forbid flights on routes where there is an alternative of 2.5 hours or less,” said Julien Etchanchu, senior director, sustainability, at BCD’s consulting division Advito. “The law raised a lot of attention, but it’s impact is minimal since its’s really only impacting two to three routes.”
French travel management platform Fairjungle, which has just raised $4.4 million, believes the market opening up is allowing more rail operators to compete — and its customers want access to new fares, which can often be lower as new entrants look to take market share.
“There are new rail companies coming into France,” said CEO Saad Berrada.
“New competition in the rail market makes the rail vertical very interesting in France. To be able to integrate the content is something that’s very important for our clients. People are looking for low-carbon alternatives, or at least a native approach, not just compensation,” he added.
TravelPerk, which is headquartered in Barcelona, Spain, has seen train adoption grow strongly in Europe, with 52 percent more train journeys than flights booked during the fourth quarter of 2022 compared to the same period in 2019. It said the momentum was driven by strong inflation in European flight prices. Its data reveals France recorded a 47 percent increase compared to before the pandemic, while Germany and the UK recorded 50 percent and 55 percent growth, respectively.
For corporate travel agency CWT, 70 percent of domestic business travel is now by rail. “Over the past four years we’ve seen French rail travel bookings grow by 5 percent and it continues to climb with more domestic rail compared to air choices being made,” said a spokeperson.
The number of Eurostar travelers connecting at Brussels for journeys between the Netherlands and the UK has meanwhile doubled since 2018.
This week the operator marked five years of travel between London and Amsterdam, totaling 1.6 million rail journeys. More than 84,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide were saved, it claimed, which is the equivalent of over 10,000 plane loads. It added that in terms of carbon footprint, one flight between London and Amsterdam was equivalent to seven Eurostar journeys.
“We want to carry 30 million passengers a year on all of our routes by 2030, and the continued growth of our Dutch routes will play a huge role in helping us deliver on these ambitions,” said Gwendoline Cazenave, CEO at Eurostar Group.
The rise in rail travel comes despite ongoing industrial action, particularly in France. The country was hit by its 12th day of protests on April 13, as workers rally against a controversial pension reform that would rise the retirement age.
“Business travelers in France are well-accustomed to the strikes so we are seeing no real impact,” said one board member of the Global Business Travel Association in France. “The hybrid work environment now used by many corporates means we are well established in hosting meetings with of mix of in-person and remote workers to continue business as usual.”
Advito’s Etchanchu added that even during strikes, about 50 percent to 80 percent of the trains still operated.
However, CWT said it had seen an uptick in short-term car rentals due to the rail strikes, with a 15 percent increase in bookings in March compared to February 2023.
Photo credit: Swiss rail line SBB operates the popular Nightjet service in Central Europe. Skift