Business Travel Show Europe is the place where
September 2022, Virtual
September 29 2022, Virtual
Jennifer Baker is a Brussels-based journalist reporting on European affairs, including politics, technology and transport
Travel across the globe will only slowly return to pre-Covid levels, and doing so safely is paramount. No CEO will want to send staff abroad if they fear health will be put at risk. This is where mainland Europe, with its extensive rail network, is likely to bounce back faster than other regions.
According to analysis by UBS Research, Europe’s high-speed rail market is expected to grow 10 per cent every year this decade.
There are several reasons rail could be appealing to business travellers in particular. Rail networks generally connect into the centre of cities, reducing the number of different transport modes – and potential contact with the virus. Social distancing can be easier on trains than planes and there is more reliable wifi and working options. Lastly, but not least, rail’s environmental footprint is considerably less than air.
The European Commission has strongly committed to making travel more sustainable and even a pandemic is unlikely to disrupt that aim. However, this means targeted investment is needed.
‘How to Spend It: A Proposal for a European Covid-19 Recovery Programme’ by The Vienna Institute for International Economic Studies says “an emissions-reducing shift towards cross-border high-speed railway lines, via reduced road and air traffic, has yet to be seriously embarked upon.”
The main problem is that high-speed rail remains mainly a national project. This means that booking cross-border rail travel within the EU can be fraught with difficulty as EU politics and transport blogger Jon Worth explains: “Anyone wanting to book a flight has a dozen or more flight comparison websites available to them, yet no equivalent – a Skyscanner for rail if you like – currently exists. Trainline.eu is the closest there is to such a service, but even then, it is a long way from covering all of Europe’s trains, both in terms of finding out what trains run and being able to book them online.
“Often, booking a cross-border train is a nightmare when different providers offer different prices and terms for the same train!”
Adding to the complexity, around 30 per cent of rail travel in Europe is booked through indirect channels. Open data for timetables and tickets would go a long way to resolving passengers’ headaches.
“There are many useful ways European Union money could be spent to rejuvenate the continent’s railways as part of a post-Covid decarbonisation plan,” says Worth. “But building new high-speed lines is only one small part of what is needed: more cross-border trains (including night trains), targeted infrastructure investments, and improvements for passengers on timetables, ticketing and multi-modal journeys are the fast way forward. The solution: use EU money to procure a larger fleet of high-speed trains that can run EU-wide, and allow operators across the EU to lease this fleet.”
Passenger rights for journeys that take in multiple rail providers are also needed to ensure travellers can confidently book trains across the continent. According to EU Travel Tech, Trainline worked closely with the rail industries in several European countries to quickly relax refund rules on non-refundable tickets, allowing for quick and easy refunds online. “The goodwill that has come from this quick action will be crucial in giving customers confidence to travel by train again,” says the organisation.
The basics for thriving European rail transport are there. All that’s needed now is some joined-up thinking.
This article was first published in the July/August issue of BTN Europe