In the spirit of Greta Thunberg (if not quite the same dedication and determination), I decided I would try my best not to travel by aeroplane.
As a Brit in Munich exile, I had procrastinated for some time over the decision – for the simple reason that I wasn’t at all convinced that taking a train from southern Germany to the north of England to visit my family would be practical and affordable.
Now, a train journey half-way across Europe has many potential pitfalls, largely because many train services are underfunded and overcrowded (in the the past two decades, the ‘UK rail network has seen a 116% increase in passenger usage’). Nevertheless, though there were some elements of the service and journey that were poor, the whole experience has convinced me that I no longer need take planes for such a journey.
I’m writing the story of my trip from Munich to Middlesbrough for Business Spotlight magazine, in which Brexit will also feature heavily as a central theme. For now, however, I would like to lay out a few thoughts:
- in a time of a climate emergency, there is little justification for most of us to fly anywhere. That’s not a subjective view, but more a reality of where we are in history
– this does not mean nobody should fly, but it raises the question of who, when and why? At present, I don’t have anywhere near detailed, properly researched answers
– unsurprisingly, there is a varying level of service on trains, largely dependent on country, operating company and even just how (un)lucky you are on any given day of the week
– on the whole, Europe’s railways (from infrastructure to rolling stock) are woefully underfunded to meet the needs of the 21st century, and not just related to our radically changing climate
– at a customer level, getting on a train is akin to going back in time, including technologically – wifi is poor, food is not great, information is often unreliable, too few people working even at major stations (Brussels, in particular)
– the ticket collectors (or guards, as we used to call them) and other people working on the railways, plus the majority of fellow passengers, were friendly and helpful – in fact, I met some wonderful people
Despite the huge space for improvements, my experience travelling from southern Germany to northern England was immensely positive. The major aspect is that travelling by train is much more relaxing than by plane. Even going through the checks for the Eurostar is a breeze compared to at any international airport I’ve been to.
And after 19 years of (in the end, at least) forcing myself to travel by aeroplane, the sheer ease of hopping on and off a train anywhere in Europe is too good to turn down. It’s better for the environment, it’s better for travellers’ peace of mind (in my opinion), travellers on the whole are more relaxed and, to top it all, you get to see some great sights on the way.