Train Over Plane

With air travel accounting for 2.5% of global CO2 emissions, a number of EU countries are phasing out certain domestic flight routes in favour of greener rail alternatives.

Following COP26, phasing out domestic flights presents compelling opportunities for government leaders to dramatically reduce carbon emissions.

Stage One

Active legislation or ongoing conversations about phasing-out specified flight routes that can be completed by train in less than 2.5 hours.

Implementing this rule across France, Spain, Austria and The Netherlands means…

Spain

Key Affected Routes

Madrid ⇌ Valencia (66 flights per week)

Madrid ⇌ Alicante (68 flights per week)

Ongoing Discussions in Spain

In May 2021, Spain’s Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez released ‘España 2050’ — a comprehensive plan to improve the country’s understanding of the social, economic and environmental challenges it will face over the next three decades.

As part of the plan, the Spanish government recommends restricting specified domestic flight routes that can be completed by train in under 2.5 hours.

Key affected routes include Madrid to Valencia and Madrid to Alicante. While the proposed change is yet to be formally legislated, the Prime Minister’s recommendation sets a clear precedent for the future of domestic air travel in Spain.

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France

Key Affected Routes

Paris ⇌ Bordeaux (68 flights per week)
Paris ⇌ Lyon (56 flights per week)
Paris ⇌ Nantes (54 flights per week)

Ongoing Discussions in France

On 10th April 2021, the French parliament passed legislation to discontinue domestic flight routes that can be completed by direct High-Speed Trains (TGV) in under 2.5 hours.

While France’s Citizens Convention on Climate initially suggested a phase-out of flights that could be completed by train in under 4 hours, the government feared this change would isolate certain regions and continued push-back from Air France-KLM raised additional doubts.

Key affected routes include Paris to Bordeaux, Paris to Lyon and Paris to Nantes. Importantly, this legislation doesn’t apply to domestic flights that are considered ‘connecting’ routes for international journeys.

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The Netherlands

Key Affected Routes

Amsterdam ⇌ Brussels (56 flights per week)

Ongoing Discussions in The Netherlands

The Netherlands is a global pioneer when it comes to carbon conscious domestic travel. The country’s modest size, flat terrain and sophisticated train network mean there are no domestic flight routes for commercial purposes.

Even so, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines has partnered with NS Dutch Railways and Thalys in March 2020 to minimise flights between Amsterdam Airport Schiphol (AMS) and Brussels.

This initially involves reducing the number of daily flights between Brussels and Amsterdam from 5 to 4 as part of KLM’s ‘Fly Responsibly‘ campaign.

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Austria

Key Affected Routes

Salzburg ⇌ Vienna (80 flights per week)

Ongoing Discussions in Austria

On 2nd July 2020, Austrian Airlines announced the termination of the short-haul route between Vienna and Salzburg and plans to facilitate an alternative rail route through the airline’s AIRail service.

The change was driven by the Austrian government who included a requirement for the airline to address its environmental impact in the terms and conditions of a €600 million post-COVID bailout deal.

The agreement stipulates that the airline must take steps to reduce its carbon emissions and replace flights that have an existing journey time of under 3 hours. As the Austrian government continues to make upgrades to the country’s rail infrastructure, more flight routes are likely to fall within this threshold.

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Stage Two

Ongoing conversations about replacing specified flight routes that can be completed by train in less than 4 hours.

Implementing this rule across France, Spain, Austria and The Netherlands & Germany means…

Spain

Key Affected Routes

Madrid ⇌ Valencia (66 flights per week)

Madrid ⇌ Alicante (68 flights per week)

Madrid ⇌ Barcelona (222 flights per week)

Madrid ⇌ Malaga (106 flights per week)

Barcelona ⇌ Valencia (12 flights per week)

Madrid ⇌ Seville (94 flights per week)

Ongoing Discussions in Spain

On 2nd July 2020, Austrian Airlines announced the termination of the short-haul route between Vienna and Salzburg and plans to facilitate an alternative rail route through the airline’s AIRail service.

The change was driven by the Austrian government who included a requirement for the airline to address its environmental impact in the terms and conditions of a €600 million post-COVID bailout deal.

The agreement stipulates that the airline must take steps to reduce its carbon emissions and replace flights that have an existing journey time of under 3 hours. As the Austrian government continues to make upgrades to the country’s rail infrastructure, more flight routes are likely to fall within this threshold.

Learn More About Our Calculation

France

Key Affected Routes

Paris ⇌ Bordeaux (68 flights per week)

Paris ⇌ Lyon (90 flights per week)

Paris ⇌ Nantes (54 flights per week)

Paris ⇌ Toulouse (394 flights per week)

Paris ⇌ Marseille (212 flights per week)

Paris ⇌ Rennes (56 flights per week)

Ongoing Discussions in France

After dismissing the recommendation set by the Citizens Convention on Climate to extend the Train Over Plane zone to 4 hours, President Macron is under pressure from French consumer group, UFC-Que Choisir, to review the legislation.

In a recent survey, UFC-Que Choisir estimates that the average plane emits 77 times more CO2 per passenger than replacement train routes — despite the average train being cheaper and taking no more than 40 minutes longer.

Additionally, the French government has received negative press for their decision to double Air France’s public funding in April 2021. While post-COVID investment into aviation may seem like a backwards step for the environment, France’s Minister of the Economy, Bruno Le Maire, explains how the additional $4.7 billion loan is subject to the airline discontinuing a number of domestic routes that can be replaced by greener train alternatives.

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The Netherlands

Key Affected Routes

Amsterdam ⇌ Brussels (56 flights per week)

Amsterdam ⇌ Paris (152 flights per week)

Amsterdam ⇌ Frankfurt (116 flights per week)

Amsterdam ⇌ Bruges (56 flights per week)

Ongoing Discussions in The Netherlands

The partnership between KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, NS Dutch Railways and Thalys marks the start of what could be an exciting shift in passenger behaviour across the European Union.

After successfully reducing the frequency of a single flight route between The Netherlands and Belgium, extending the Train Over Plane zone will involve striking agreements with a number of neighbouring countries that are well-connected to the extensive Dutch rail network.

Specifically, implementing a 4-hour Train Over Plane zone between Amsterdam and the nearby cities of Paris, Frankfurt, London and Bruges would generate over 3 million air passengers every year and reduce net carbon emissions by half a million tonnes.

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Austria

Key Affected Routes

Salzburg ⇌ Vienna (80 flights per week)

Vienna ⇌ Innsbruck (114 flights per week)

Vienna ⇌ Klagenfurt (16 flights per week)

Linz ⇌ Innsbruck (142 flights per week)

Salzburg ⇌ Graz (124 flights per week)

Ongoing Discussions in Austria

As it stands, Austria’s commitment to a Train Over Plane zone is limited to a single route between Vienna and Salzburg.

While this is an extremely popular route with almost 400,000 air passengers travelling back and forth every year, investing in Austria’s rail infrastructure with initiatives like Target Network 2025+ and restricting air travel on journeys that can be completed by train in under 4 hours would capture a number of high-traffic routes.

Specifically, a 4-hour Train Over Plane zone in Austria would include routes between Vienna & Innsbruck, Vienna & Klagenfurt, Linz & Innsbruck, and Salzburg & Graz.

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Germany

Key Affected Routes

Berlin ⇌ Munich (138 flights per week)

Berlin ⇌ Frankfurt (160 flights per week)

Berlin ⇌ Koln (76 flights per week)

Berlin ⇌ Dusseldorf (58 flights per week)

Hamburg ⇌ Frankfurt (176 flights per week)

Hamburg ⇌ Dusseldorf (34 flights per week)

Hanover ⇌ Munich (78 flights per week)

Ongoing Discussions in Germany

In April 2021, the German Aviation Association and Deutsche Bahn signed an agreement to improve high-speed rail connections on routes that are currently served by domestic flights.

Due to the geographic size of Germany, the majority of the country’s popular flight routes can’t be serviced by a train alternative in under 2.5 hours.

However, applying a 4-hour Train Over Plane zone in Germany is expected to convert 20% of the country’s total domestic air passengers into rail passengers. This totals at 4.3 million additional train passengers every year which checks out exactly with our calculations.

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Stage Three

An EU-wide agreement to replace all domestic and intra-EU flight routes that can be completed by train in less than 4 hours.

Implementing this rule across all EU countries means…

European Union

Applying EU-wide restrictions on domestic and intra-EU flights that can be completed by train in under 4 hours would reduce net carbon emissions by over 36 million tonnes.

As the ever-growing threat of global warming and increased public scrutiny places pressure on governments to take serious action, EU-wide restrictions on short-haul flights could be a reality sooner than you think.

Specifically, COP26 marks a critical moment for European governments to join forces and implement pro-environmental legislation that stretches across national borders.

With Greenpeace calling for the EU to legislate against flights that can be serviced by train in under 6 hours, improving the connectivity of EU rail networks will be critical to maintaining mobility across the continent.

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So, Train Over Plane zones present exciting opportunities for governments to decarbonise the transport sector and a handful of EU countries are already taking steps in the right direction.

However, the reality of phasing-out certain flight routes to make significant CO2 savings is a complex challenge that requires careful planning.

Specifically, the rail industry must overcome three key obstacles:

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