No one can have missed environmental activist Greta Thunberg’s intervention in Davos in January. True to her ideals, she took the train to the Swiss Alps. Several projects are now underway to make train travel in Europe easier. The challenges linked to these projects will be discussed when the rail industry gathers at Elmia Nordic Rail 2019.
Trains and their entire ecosystem are heading for a new and exciting future.
In November the European Parliament decided to simplify train travel within Europe. In January the Swedish government mandated Trafikverket (the Swedish Transport Administration) to contract for night trains to the Continent – all to move travellers from airplanes and cars for the sake of the environment.
But challenges exist. For example, both the electrical and the signalling systems differ between countries, and so far there is no easy way to book train tickets between stations in different countries. For example, anyone trying to book train trips between Stockholm and large cities like Milan or Amsterdam in the same way as via online booking sites for multiple airlines soon discovers it is not easy. However, work is being done at the European level to simplify this.
Are these efforts enough to increase train travel among business travellers?
“I think it will be difficult to move business travellers to trains for long-distance journeys,” says Lotten Fowler, General Manager of the Swedish Business Travel Association. “In that case, high-speed trains will be needed for reasons of time and efficiency.”
The rail industry is also working to find joint new solutions to make train travel within Europe easier. Until those solutions are fully implemented, train travel still has an important role to play for the business traveller here and now.
“Many companies would like to replace the hire car with train travel on the last leg of the journey from the airport to the final destination, but it’s difficult because it’s not yet possible to book a train ticket easily in all countries and on all routes at the same time as you book your flight,” Fowler adds.
When it comes to booking journeys across national borders, the railways lag far behind the airlines for historical reasons. But Sweden, Germany and France in particular have taken some measures to simplify the process. And as soon as the booking systems are put in place, the opportunities for rail travel will increase.
“Then I believe a lot of tourist travel can also be moved over to the rail network,” Lotten Fowler says.
The shift may have already begun. Ivan Karlsson at Centralens Resebutik in the Swedish city of Kalmar says twice as many international train trips were sold in Sweden in 2018 compared with 2017 and in January this year his company sold four times as many rail trips as the year before. This trend is also noticeable among other actors in the travel market.
At Elmia Nordic Rail 2019 how to simplify international train travel will be one of many topics discussed by the transport industry.