Ode to the good old train


by Nicoletta Moss

Photo by JK on Unsplash

When we talk about Mobility the focus of attention is on urban mobility solutions, such as car sharing, micromobility or public transport. But how about all our long-distance trips – those we often travel by car or plane?

According to the National Household Travel Survey (NHTS) Americans total 1.3 trillion person-miles of long distance travel a year on about 2.6 billion long-distance trips (long-distance trips are journeys of more than 50 miles from home to the furthest destination). More than half of long-distance trips (56 percent) are taken for pleasure, 16 percent for business, 13 percent each for commuting and for personal business, and 3 percent for other reasons. Regardless of trip purpose, driving is the primary travel mode, accounting for 89 percent of all trips. Not great for our carbon footprint. But there are options!

Deutsche Bahn, SNCF, OEBB (Austrian Federal Railways) and SBB (Swiss Federal Railways) have announced a collaboration to expand the network of international passenger night trains in Europe.

Leonore Gewessler, Minister of Climate Action, Environment, Energy, Mobility, Innovation and Technology (Austria), said: “Night trains are the future of climate-friendly mobility within Europe. It is our joint responsibility to ensure good services for the people of Europe. To ensure this is done sustainably we must shape the framework conditions for European night train services well for the future. I’m pleased about this joint agreement across Europe.

New Nightjet routes from 2021© DEUTSCHE BAHN AG

I couldn’t agree more. What a great alternative to the car or plane! And what a great way to reduce your carbon footprint and still enjoy travelling to faraway countries! Instead of racing to the airport, often spending as much time in the air as before and after the flight – a train ride can be your perfect alternative.

Back in the 2000s, when I returned from New Zealand to Europe, I chose the long way round by taking a flight just until China and do the rest with the Trans-Siberian Railway. What an adventure: travelling through countless time zones, encountering a diversity of characters along the journey, tasting food of the different regions and getting on and off wherever we were curious to explore.

I remember as a child we often took trains to go to our holiday destination. The train from Vienna to Paris was called the “Blue Enzian” – as the wagons had the colour of this beautiful Alpine Flower. My father is a huge train enthusiast and during our trips sometimes he put his hand out of the window with a tape recorder, capturing the soothing sounds of the wagons rattling along the tracks. We kids never got bored (“Are we there yet?”) as there was constantly something new discover – similar to a trip with the car, but you still had the freedom to get up, walk around and stretch your legs. We loved the idea cuddling up in the fresh, white linen blankets and waking up the next morning in a different world.

Another service which we used a lot where the car transporter trains: you could load your car at the back of the train, have dinner on-board, drive through the night in your cosy compartment and then complete the last leg of the journey with your private car. No struggle with your luggage included.

But one by one those train services were stopped – and we were back in the car, battling through crowded motorways, arriving exhausted at the destination. Let’s hope that governments around the world put some money to revive their old forgotten train lines, offering a stress free, enjoyable, electric-powered adventure.

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