Why Are Trains So Expensive? Or, the Carbon Footprint of Researchers

Why Are Trains So Expensive? Or, the Carbon Footprint of Researchers

Next week I will travel from Antwerp to Girona for the training course and meeting that we have within the project two times per year. Today, the majority of people would without thinking opt for the plane for such a trip. Cheap flight tickets have made Europe within reach for city weekends, one-day business meetings, and escalating emissions of greenhouse gases.

Those of us who choose the train are then looked upon as nostalgic reactionaries, but I prefer to see the train as an attractive choice rather than a technological parenthesis such as the CD. One obvious reason for choosing the train in our climate conscious days is the large carbon footprint for air travel. The site ecopassenger.hafas.de/ compares the environmental impact for planes, trains and cars and tells me that my trip to Girona will emit 13 kg of CO2 if I go by train, but 160 kg if I travel by plane, more than 10 times more. Actually it is not even covering the full global warming potential of the flight as there are additional effects for emissions at high altitudes.

But, although I care about climate change, and I think that we all should, I have other reasons for preferring the train. Just the idea of going from city center to city center without the hassle of airport transit, security checks and not being able to bring even a yoghurt for the trip makes my shoulders drop. Timewise, going from Girona to Barcelona El Prat takes two hours, and taking into account the extra hour in advance you need to be present at the airport makes it three, and by that time you are already more than half way to Paris with the train. In any case, I rather spend an extra hour or two on the train where I can read or work rather than on an airport.

So it is a pity that train travel often is seen as a too expensive option for European trips. However, sometimes I am asking myself if the reverse is true. A commonly voiced critique is that airplanes do not have to pay taxes on fuel like other means of personal transport. So in fact, are the trains too expensive, or is it the planes that are too cheap?