Business Treaveler logo

Travel news, reviews and intel for high-flyers

Flying in Europe Can Be 30 Times Cheaper Than Trains

The new report from Greenpeace has sparked calls for European governments to do more to make rail more affordable and thus more attractive to travelers

by Fergus Cole

July 24, 2023

Photo: TAP Air Portugal, Airbus A320. Amsterdam Schiphol. Courtesy of Etienne Jong / Unsplash

According to new research from environmental campaigners Greenpeace, flying in Europe can be up to 30 times cheaper than taking the train.

Researchers from Greenpeace analyzed 112 one-way routes within Europe, including 18 domestic routes, and compared the cost of plane tickets with rail fares at nine different points in time. All the routes were between destinations less than 1,500km (932 miles) apart, thus qualifying as short-haul, while only destinations with an international airport and railway station were included.

Photo: High speed rail in France. Courtesy of Voyageur8 / Shutterstock

The report found that, on average, train journeys in Europe are around double the cost of their air alternatives, which can produce up to 10 times more emissions.

However, there was a significant difference in prices depending on the route. Of the 112 routes analyzed, train fares were cheaper than flying in nearly 30% of the cases (33 routes). However, for certain routes, such as from London to Barcelona, train passengers could expect to pay around ten times more than those flying.

The most significant difference in cost was found to be on routes such as London to Brussels, which could be up to thirty times more expensive to take the train than a flight. Greenpeace said that rail companies had no chance of competing with airlines when the cost of a flight between the two cities could be found for as low as €12.99 ($14).

Photo: Ryanair, Boeing 737-800. Courtesy of Portuguese Gravity / Unsplash

According to Greenpeace, low-cost carriers operated flights on 79% of the routes analyzed, with almost all of them resulting in cheaper airfares than rail fares. The environmental campaigners called on governments to do more to make rail travel more enticing for travelers, for example, by imposing more taxes on low-cost carriers or following on from France’s lead in banning short-haul domestic flights where efficient rail alternatives are available.

“Airlines benefit from outrageous financial advantages,” said Lorelei Limousin, a senior climate campaigner at Greenpeace EU. “Planes pollute far more than trains, so why are people being encouraged to fly? Low-cost airlines, in particular, have exploited every loophole and trick in the book. €10 airline tickets are only possible because others, like workers and taxpayers, pay the true cost,” Limousin added.

Photo: Valencia Airport, Spain. Courtesy of Rob Wilson / Unsplash

“For the planet and people’s sake, politicians must act to turn this situation around and make taking the train the more affordable option, or else we’re only going to see more and more heatwaves like the one currently wreaking total havoc in Spain, Italy, Greece and elsewhere.”

Dr. Doug Parr, director of policy at Greenpeace UK, added: “As millions of Brits head off on their European breaks – many to areas that are being scorched by this historic heatwave – the twisted economics of the transport industry means they are being encouraged to keep throwing fuel on the climate inferno.”

“Flying only looks like a bargain because the cost of pollution is so cheap. Low-cost airlines are paying negligible tax while imposing low wages and poor conditions for staff,” Parr said.

James Dunne, founder and CEO of train booking website Rail Online, also called on governments to ensure that rail fares are more affordable, telling The Independent: “As one of the most important considerations when booking, especially given the cost-of-living crisis, the primary way to encourage more people to choose rail above air travel would be to ensure domestic train travel is more affordable than the alternative flight route option.”