While many of us saw the covid-induced hiatus on air travel as nothing more than a temporary dip that would soon return to pre-pandemic levels, growing conversations about the opportunity to replace certain flight routes with greener alternatives is set to change the future of travel altogether.
Specifically, several EU countries including France, Austria and The Netherlands have plans to phase out short-haul flights that can be completed by train in a given time frame. As exciting as this might sound, history teaches us not to take pledges of goodwill at face value. Intentions are one thing but many governments fall short when it comes to implementing formal legislation or tackling the route of an issue with long-term commitments.
With this in mind, we’ve spent the last few months developing Train Over Plane — an interactive map that compiles all of the ongoing discussions and active legislation around phasing-out domestic flights to provide a visual model of what action EU countries are taking.
What Is Train Over Plane
As the name suggests, Train Over Plane imagines a world where there are fewer planes in the sky and more trains on the track.
More specifically, it uses a three-stage model to visualise the associated carbon savings of phasing-out flight routes that can be completed by train in a given time. The goal is to create a real-time model that captures the countries that are already taking action against domestic flights and visualises the environmental impact of expanding the Train Over Plane zone across more territories.
In its current form, the three stages of the Train Over Plane zone are as follows:
- Stage 1. Active legislation or ongoing conversations about phasing-out specified flight routes that can be completed by train in less than 2.5 hours. This applies to France, Austria, The Netherlands and Spain.
- Stage 2. Ongoing conversations about replacing specified flight routes that can be completed by train in less than 4 hours. This applies to France, Austria, The Netherlands, Spain and Germany.
- Stage 3. An EU-wide agreement to replace all domestic and intra-EU flight routes that can be completed by train in less than 4 hours.
Why Did We Build Train Over Plane?
A Campaign for Change
Our primary motivation for consolidating and sharing information about phasing-out domestic flights was to create a visual tool that people could use to campaign for change.
If last year’s COP26 has taught us anything, it’s that getting the attention of key decision-makers and inspiring action from global leaders is no mean feat. While the climate conference was a success in the sense that it helped to broadcast important messages about the future of our planet, the promises we hear on TV screens and the front pages rarely translate into long-term action.
In the context of phasing-out domestic flights, we created Train Over Plane to hold governments accountable for their pledges and to provide an open-source resource that captures up-to-date information on what governments say they’re going to do about high-polluting transport routes.
If you’re someone who feels strongly about protecting our planet and thinks governments should do more to decarbonise transport, exploring and sharing Train Over Plane will help us nudge decision-makers in the right direction.
OTAs Need Rail On Their Menu
The other key motivation behind Train Over Plane is to shine a light on how the travel industry can predict and adapt to structural changes in the transport sector. Modal shift (the process of passengers switching to alternative modes of transport) presents a number of technical challenges and commercial opportunities for Online Travel Agencies (OTAs).
Critically, European governments phasing out domestic flights will require OTAs to offer rail options alongside flight reservations to help customers book seamless multimodal journeys. For example, if someone wants to travel from New York to Lyon but the French government has legislated against the Paris to Lyon flight, he or she will need to hop on a train instead of taking the domestic flight connection.
We can already see these changes taking effect as more airlines are now offering train bookings on their websites.
Taking a Stand at Last Year’s COP26
As part of our campaign to promote green rail alternatives over domestic flights, SilverRail’s Marketing Director, Frederic Kalinke, took the train to Glasgow to attend The New York Times Climate Hub at COP26 in 2021.
Frederic wanted answers about why some countries are more serious about green travel than others. After attending a panel discussion about the future of sustainable mobility in the 21st century, he took to the microphone to challenge the panel on why more government leaders aren’t following in the footsteps of countries like France, Austria and The Netherlands to phase-out domestic flights in favour of green rail.
You can catch Frederic in action here.
Help Us Decarbonise Travel
At SilverRail, we’re on a mission to make rail easy.
We develop technology to help rail operators and travel agencies transform how they serve customers and run their businesses. Concerning Train Over Plane more specifically, our White Label and Metasearch products help OTAs sell rail easily by providing seamless and easy-to-integrate retail solutions.
Hit the link below to learn more about how we can help.