Could Sleeper Trains Replace International Air Travel?

Jerri-Lynn here. Regular readers are probably aware of my fondness for night trains  (see Take the (Night) Train Redux, and Take the (Night) Train)..

Seems I’m not the only one who tries to patronise these services whenever possible.

The post focuses on the environmental benefits of choosing rail travel over air travel, and doesn’t mention any of the other benefits:  trains tend to run from city centre to city centre, thus saving passengers the need to find their way from an out-of-the-way airport to where they want to go. Trains are more relaxed about baggage requirements. And finally, train stations have yet to succumb to the security theater charade, meaning one doesn’t have to allow extra hours to qualify to board a train.

By Enrica Papa, Senior Lecturer in Transport Planning, University of Westminster. Originally published at The Conversation

Dutch airline KLM recently launched a new advertising campaign called “Fly Responsibly”. Remarkably, it seems to encourage viewers to fly less. “Do you always have to meet face-to-face?”, the advert asks. “Could you take the train instead?”.

The influence of climate campaigner Greta Thunberg likely explains why airlines feel obliged to say these things. Flight shame – or “flygskam” – has gripped many regular flyers with a sense of unease about the aviation industry, which consumes five million barrels of oil a day and is predicted to account for around 22% of global carbon emissions by 2050.

European high-speed rail networks already offer an alternative to air traffic between European countries for distances shorter than 1,000 kilometres. For longer journeys, sleeper trains are becoming increasingly popular. These services run through the night and offer passengers a berth to sleep in. As more and more consumers question the ethics of their next flight, rail companies see an opportunity – and competition with airlines is heating up.

But can night trains help offset the international journeys that most people currently make by aeroplane?

Because of the altitude at which aeroplanes fly, their carbon emissions have more of an immediate warming effect than ground transport. Peter Gudella/Shutterstock

The Renaissance of European Night Trains

From 2009 until 2018, the European night train network shrank steadily. The same is true for conventional intercity train networks, especially in southern and western Europe. This made air travel the only alternative on many routes. But that appears to be changing.

When German Rail decided to withdraw its network of overnight passenger trains in 2015, Austrian Federal Railways (ÖBB) decided to take over some of its services. In 2017, ÖBB’s Nightjet services carried around 1.4 million passengers, more than doubling its total passengers from the previous year.

In 2018, ÖBB achieved another 10% increase in passenger numbers. ÖBB CEO, Andreas Matthä, said that “overnight services are a viable alternative to short-haul flights” and committed to continue investing in new services. As a result, ÖBB is expanding its routes on the NightJet network of sleeper trains. From January 2020, night trains will once again run between Vienna and Brussels, 16 years after the service closed.

In the UK, Great Western Railway plans to renovate the sleeper trains it runs to Cornwall. The Caledonian Sleeper, which runs between London, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen has been revamped with a £150 million investment in new trains.

In response to a public petition, the Swedish government plans to reintroduce night train services to other European countries. A sleeper train service from Malmö in southern Sweden to London has been planned for 2022 at the earliest. The service could set off in the evening and arrive in the English capital at lunchtime the next day. At almost 1,300 kilometres, the trip is typical of the many rail journeys that could offset those currently taken between European countries by aeroplane.

An Alternative to Air Travel?

Aviation industry CEOs are worried that flight shame could threaten passenger traffic and in some countries this already seems to be happening. Swedavia, an airline which operates ten of Sweden’s busiest airports, reported a 4% fall in passengers in 2019 compared with the previous year. The decrease was primarily in domestic travel, while the number of international passengers fell to a lesser extent. Despite this, European air traffic still grew by 4.2% in 2019.

It’s too soon to say whether the night train revival is a permanent trend prompted by flygskam. Nevertheless, environmental awareness still motivates the choices of travellers.

Sleeper train operators promise comfort to entice would-be flyers. Flystock/Shutterstock

Researchers who study consumer profiles in different markets recently identified a new one: the “environmental traveller”. People who fall into this market segment try to maintain a lifestyle that is as environmentally friendly as possible – and that includes reducing the number of flights they take.

But the researchers found that awareness of the environmental crisis doesn’t automatically translate into behaviour changes, such as choosing other transport modes over air travel. Most often, distance or cost are more powerful motivations, particularly for short and medium-haul routes.

A recent study from the Netherlands found that passengers who travel for leisure purposes seem to be most attracted to the option of night trains. It’s possible that night train services could simply generate new demand from these customers instead of substituting existing airline passengers. The researchers found that 40% of business travellers still opted to fly the day before and stay in a hotel instead, though many thought the relative comfort of sleeper trains was appealing.

Sleeper trains might appeal to backpackers, but can they offer an alternative to frequent flying businesspeople? Flystock/Shutterstock

Research conducted on behalf of the European parliament is much more pessimistic, concluding that there are more challenges than opportunities for night trains to grow in Europe. Chief among them is the continued growth of low-cost airlines. Infrastructure costs currently prohibit long-distance night trains which might be able to tempt more passengers out of these aeroplanes. Subsidy and investment to expand rail networks may be necessary for the sector to compete with aviation. Making airlines pay fuel duty could also help.

In the meantime, flygskam could still be effective if it means people keep the pressure on the aviation industry to reform and reduce its growing carbon footprint.

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55 comments

  1. Ook

    A few months ago I was on a long (not quite overnight) train to a town in northern India, sharing a car with someone who was returning to his home town to take care of some properties. We disembarked at the same station, and my ride was not there. My new acquaintance made a few phone calls and stuck around until the situation was resolved. Can’t imagine anything like that happening at an airport.

    I suspect many traveling on business prefer the relative sterility of the airport environment, and the relatively leisurely image of train travel might not be in line with the image they want to project to customers.

  2. Biologist

    As a student, I travelled throughout Europe by train, often on sleeper trains. It very much fitted with a student lifestyle–they were cheap but slow, you could bring your own food (and beer!) and you meet a lot of people along the way. Easyjet didn’t exist yet, or at least I didn’t know about it. The only cheap alternative was Eurolines, a company of long distance coaches / buses, which I took a few times but never liked. The main advantage of the train over bus was comfort. Even if the journey is long, you can walk around the train, there’s more leg space, you can bring more baggage, and you don’t get car sickness.

    Some years ago I travelled from Europe to China by train, via central Asia, on slow long-distance trains. And with slow I mean slow, trains that take 72 hours. That was fantastic as well, for all the obvious reasons (including views of the steppe that I will never forget, and seeing the gradual (and sometimes sudden) change from European to Asian physionomy and languages of the people along the way).

    But that was all holiday. I haven’t taken a night train in ages, though I frequently travel with daytime highspeed train in various European countries (incl to and from UK). Despite the increased security and the airline-style ticketing (with booking in advance givign you cheaper but less flexible tickets), I still prefer it over the airplane, when I can afford it. This is for flight times up to two hours or so, which by train can take up to 10, depending on connections. For intance, a while ago I went from London to Montpellier by train, and despite the change of stations in Paris it was so relaxed, and surprisingly quick (Eurostar + TGV, both very quick and comfortable).

    A big annoyance with flying is the sheer loudness / chaos and general unpleasentness of many (cheap) airports, and with trains the time spent waiting at stations is minimal, while on the train you can work on your laptop, read or relax in comfort. And again, you can walk around, bring your own food and drinks, bring more luggage, use your laptop all the time.

    I realise it’s a privilige because flying is usually around twice as expensive for the same distance, but on the other hand, I’m not that priviliged that I can use business lounges in airports (which I hear are a bit more quiet!).

    But, if we were governed by people interested in general wellbeing of the population (not to mention our planet’s climate), flying would be horribly expensive and high-speed trains would be much cheaper, and more widely available.

  3. ilpalazzo

    I took a sleeper train once instead of flight and it was great. I was travelling with three work colleagues to a business fair. The connection was Poznań to Amsterdam. There were two bed cabins so we took two. Travel time was 13 hours, 9pm – 10 am. We brought our own drinks on board and had a cheery meetup before sleep. Beds, sheets etc. were comfortable and clean. There were two shower cabins in every car (there were also sleeping cabins with shower inside but they were twice the cost). Cup of cofee + croissant in the morning was included. We had a good night’s sleep and arrived straight in the city centre. I also booked a small tourist hostel right in the city centre. It wasn’t super nice but it was 5 min walk through the park to everywhere.

    Next year we were invited by a sponsor and took a flight & business hotel on the outskirts. It was much worse and all my colleagues complained.

    Oh and the price for flight & train was the same.

  4. PlutoniumKun

    For anyone interested in long distance train travel, Seat61 is an awesome resource. But sadly its clear from following this site that the number of overnight trains is reducing all the time. There have also been reductions in ‘drive on’ trains in Europe, where you could cross the continent with your car on a sleeper. Its a pity, as sleeper trains are usually using tracks that are unused during the night, apart perhaps from goods vehicles.

    I’ve only done a sleeper train once – Vienna to Belgrade in 2002 – and it was a very interesting and atmospheric experience (it was an old style carriage, like something from a 1930’s movie). Unfortunately, crossing so many borders meant that I was repeatedly woken up by border officials. It certainly made sense to be able to have dinner in Vienna, catch a train, then wake up for breakfast in the destination.

    A parallel to sleeper trains is sleeper ferries, another endangered species. Its possible to travel all around Japan very cheaply by taking ferries – you sleep on futons on a shared room (only recommended if you are used to such a hard base), but many ferries have the very Japanese bonus of a hot bath. I really enjoy sleeper ferries, I’ve taken quite a few from Ireland to France, but unfortunately nobody has connected them to high speed or sleeper trains in France, so its not really a viable option for us small island dwellers.

      1. Jerri-Lynn Scofield Post author

        It is very useful. I have used it to locate sleeper services in several countries.

    1. Science Officer Smirnoff

      Its possible to travel all around Japan very cheaply by taking ferries – you sleep on futons on a shared room (only recommended if

      They do it differently. I recall an illustrated story about Japanese sleeping in a chest of drawers—one man, one drawer.

  5. vlade

    I would love sleeper trains to take over. Last few years I travelled by a sleeper few times,and as a student I travelled by them all the time.

    The problem I have now is that, for example, to take a sleeper from London is possible, but it needs a few changes (in Brussels of Paris), and is expensive. Often it can be more expensive than a flight + overnight hotel in that destination.

    A friend of mine works as a commodity buyer. He says he’d much prefer to pay rail transport, but it’s multiple of the road transport cost (and that ignores that he’d still have to pay for the final-mile on road).

    When a ticket from London to Europe can be less expensive than the train from London to the airport, how can people be turned to trains?

  6. CBBB

    Unfortunately the trains are pretty expensive in Europe (especially German Rail I find) and flying is usually massively cheaper. When traveling with 2 or more people taking the train hardly makes sense from a cost perspective – you should just drive for distances less than 1000 KM. Even if you’re a tourist -. renting a car for a long weekend, including full insurance and gas can match and easily beat for 3 or more people, the cost of a basic round-trip train ticket.
    This is unfortunate and from an environmental perspective more should be done to make train travel cheap.

    1. Bugs Bunny

      There used to be a lovely sleeper that went from Paris to Chur Switzerland. Took it to get to the ski areas. The Pullman cabin was, as they say, to die for. Now there’s a TGV that goes through Zurich and the whole shebang takes only about 6 hours. There was also the sleeper and auto-train from Paris-Bercy station to the south and you left your car in the parking lot and they put it on for you. Arrived the next morning on the coast. We did that and then drove down to Valencia in a day.

      I’m sad those days are gone.

  7. Brooklin Bridge

    I would love any alternative to the nightmare of airports and airport security but in good ‘ol Amerika one must travel by monopoly transit generally meaning whatever mode uses the absolute most wasteful amount of carbon based fuel. Cross country travel by high speed train could actually be viable in terms of demand in spite of what everyone says but alas in terms of infrastructure, that could happen only with a large number of “ifs,” and some very difficult ones, going from false to true. The automotive and later the aviation industry pretty much closed the door on that if I have understood correctly.

    I’d love to be wrong on that especially as regards trains as it’s a phenomenal way to travel for all the reasons stated in these comments, but for me mostly the ability to really get a feel of the country one is passing through. There is something unique about the perspective one experiences on a train just as there is when going by river boat.

    I’m in the crazy situation where I have to travel (and that means by plane) even though I utterly loath doing so due to the inherent fascism* of globalization imprinted on every possible aspect of airports. We must have all done some pretty bad ***t in a previous life.

    *by which I mean state sponsored (just under the surface brutal) authoritarianism controlled by and for the benefit of international corporate and financial interests.

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      One wonders whether in theory it would be technologically possible to build strictly passenger rail up and down the medians of the Interstate Highways . . . for a passenger rail network which could be called FedeRail. Or even ” AmTrak Plus” if the ice floes grinded around just right.

      It could be fairly speedy ( not going fast enough to begin wasting energy by increasing its own air-resistance that it would have to force its own way through). It could have stops at every logical point, including spurs to stations at all major and medium airports. Make flying and AmTrak Plus interoperable and smoothly transitionable for the travelling public and many current flyers might become partial flyers-partial trainriders.

      All that is needed to make it happen is gas at $8.00-$10.j00/ gallon , never to come down again, and all other fuels equally proportionally expensive. Without right-priced gas, none of it will ever happen.

  8. BrianM

    Last month I tried the new rolling stock on the Edinburgh-London sleeper. Definite improvement over the old stock, but still not fantastic for a good night’s sleep. Didn’t help that I got woken up when the train arrived in London rather than an hour later as planned, but not a bad experience.
    But the price was! To get a single room cost me £180 (there’s usually £150 rooms, but they weren’t available on the night I wanted). Usual train fare is ~£50, with airfares comparable, so this was more than the train/plane plus a hotel. Seems to me that the price needs to be more competitive to make this successful.

  9. Bob

    Folks:

    Try the Empire Builder route.
    Yes it is not fast but there are stunning vistas.
    And if you take the sleeper meals are included.

      1. Laughingsong

        Coast Starlight. It’s my go-to now to visit my sister in CA. It’s often late but yeah I love my tiny roomette, and going through the windy cascades leg

      2. DJG

        carl:

        The California Zephyr, Chicago to Emeryville, is an education. I have done the r/t twice. The landscape is grand–and to this inhabitant of the Great Lakes States both the high desert plateau of Utah and the Sierra Nevada and its beauty were revelations.

        And the people. People talk at mealtime. People tell you things–I certainly am not shy, but I was amazed at what people were willing to tell. That’s the remarkable difference–on a plane, no one talks.

      3. Arizona Slim

        I second the California Zephyr nomination.

        And, if I may, here’s a daylong train journey nomination: The Pennsylvania, which runs between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. If you really want to see — and absorb — the Keystone State, this is your train.

        Oh, one more: If you’re flying in and out of Philadelphia and are staying in the city, I recommend the SEPTA Airport Line. It’s used by a lot of people who work at the airport, so be prepared for a different vibe than what you’d experience in one of those rental car shuttles. Or a private-hire limo service.

        1. DJG

          Arizona Slim: I have done both of these in the last couple of years, the Pennsylvanian, leaving from the wonderful 30th Street Station. The countryside is great to watch. (Unfortunately, after an enjoyable trip, I changed in the decrepit Pittsburgh train cavern for the train to Chicago. The dark side of Amtrak.)

          Yes, the SEPTA airport line–I usually get off at Jefferson Station, which is worth a look in itself. Jefferson Station, ever-expanding, gives a sense of what train travel can be. (And access to the Reading Terminal Market.)

    1. lordkoos

      When I was a child my folks twice took us from WA to Detroit and back via rail, once on the now-defunct Milwaukee Hiawatha route, and once on the Empire Builder. The Milwaukee road had the best observation cars. I’ve been a big rail fan ever since, but haven’t had much opportunity to ride trains lately.

      When I was in my 20s there was passenger rail service from central WA state to Seattle, and it only cost a dollar more than the bus, and it was such a relaxing way to make the trip. That service has been discontinued for many years, even as traffic on I-90 gets worse and worse as the amount of commuters increases. I don’t know why they don’t resume it, as in the winter it’s much safer that driving over the pass.

      Other rail excursions as an adult included across Canada from Vancouver to Montreal, and a train from Beijing to Jinzhou city in Hebei province, both were great experiences.

      1. lordkoos

        During our time in Thailand we took the train from Chiang Mai to Bangkok and back a couple of times, in fact the best fish cakes we ever tasted were found at the Bangkok depot. During our time in SE Asia we also took a train ride from Kuala Lumpur north to Butterworth. Malaysia has preserved and maintained some beautiful colonial-era provincial train stations, which I assume have been in continuous use for a century or more.

        The current state of American rail travel is sad, especially Amtrak’s decision to cut out dining cars, one of the most civilized parts of train travel IMO.

      2. Discouraged in WI

        There is still a truncated route of the Hiawatha: a shuttle between Milwaukee and Chicago. It goes each way several times a day, ridership has been increasing, sometimes standing room only, I understand, and there are to be additional (and new) cars and an extra round trip added perhaps next year. At least one bright spot!

  10. timotheus

    The New York to Chicago route is an undiscovered gem if one is not in a hurry. Could be improved inexpensively, too. Sadly, it only leaves once a day.

    1. DJG

      timotheus:

      The Great Lakes Limited has lost some of its former splendor, although getting on in the evening at Chicago’s restored Union Station evokes some of the glamor of train travel as it was in the U S of A.

      It wouldn’t take much to upgrade the route so that the length of the trip wasn’t some seventeen hours. Chicago to New York truly could be done in as little as ten hours, but the neglect of our assets is evident when one rides the trains in the U S of A.

      And the stories: I recall having breakfast with a couple, chatting about things–and at the end, the woman mentioned that her husband was in the 1948 Olympics.

      That sort of information is seldom exchanged over the pretzels on a plane flight.

  11. The Rev Kev

    Traveled on sleeper trains before in South Africa & Europe and it actually made traveling pleasant. You could watch the scenery change during the day and at night get a good night’s sleep without having to cat-nap in a standard railway seat. I could imagine it could catch on once again in America as the differences in travel would be so great.

    On one hand you could be playing drop-the-soap with a riled TSA agent and then being squeezed into your airplane seat or you could relax, walk around, get sit-down meals and arrive at your destination after a good night’s sleep aboard a train. Some choice, huh? Here are two extra links on this style of traveling-

    https://www.wired.co.uk/article/return-night-trains-europe

    https://www.traveller.com.au/europes-sleeper-trains-are-back-new-class-of-traveller-revives-oldschool-mode-of-travel-h1k4n5

    1. Wukchumni

      I took a sleeper from Melbourne to Sydney in the 80’s, and it was one of the best night’s sleeps on a choo-choo I ever had in maybe a fortnights worth, the rest all in Europe.

      I remember one from Calais to Zurich or something like that during the winter and it was freezing cold outside and the heater in the carriage overcompensated making it hot as hades inside, yikes, i’d tried to forget that episode.

      Southern Pacific by Neil Young

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=21ph2y3EYNI

  12. floydguy

    I frequently take the auto train from Sanford, FL to Lorton VA. Of course, Amtrak has been chiseling away at some of the amenities but I still find it to be a pleasant trip. Always meet interesting people in the dining/snack car.

      1. DJG

        Jerri-Lynn Scofield: Don’t even get me going. I was on the last run of the dining car of the Washington to Chicago train. (Joining in the middle of the night at the thoroughly ugly Pittsburgh station–but that’s another story of how the train system inconveniences passengers.)

  13. Klaus Kastner

    Yes, the Austrian railways, OeBB, introduced a Vienna-Brussels night-train earlier this month. Leave in the evening, sleep overnight and arrive in Brussels in the morning. Sounds great.

    If you tell a Chinese or a Japanese that people in Europe are celebrating because they have implemented a train connection which covers 1,100 Km in 14 hours, they may wonder whether Europeans are still playing with a full deck of cards!

  14. fajensen

    Wife and I booked a trip to Abisko this time last year by night train to see the northern lights. We got snowed in in Sundswall. With an insane amount of snowfall, more than 2 meters.

    So, we got a hotel paid by the Swedish Railways and met a lot of similarly stranded people :). The Abisko hotel was paid by the travel insurance, so, Free Holiday in Sundsvall! Not exactly the plan but we had a really good time.

    In Europe there is a system called Interrail, where one can buy period tickets for an entire region.

    Back in the day, it was used almost only by backpackers. Today people like me, who can well afford spending the time, and money, use it to travel.

    The next ‘conspicuous consumption’ will be to be seen carefully ‘wasting time’. Since time is really irreplaceable, this is a stronger statement than just spending money on blingy things. Money and Things can always be acquired.

    1. The Rev Kev

      Along with Interrail, there is also Eurail as well which permits travel through 33 European countries on nearly all railroads and several shipping lines as well-

      https://www.eurail.com/en

      A long time ago I met a couple who used one of these passes to go through as many countries as they could in a sort of recon. When the pass expired, they then went back to those countries that they wanted to visit in more detail.

      1. Leftcoastindie

        I used the Eurail Pass back in 1974. Three month first class pass cost $300 for students. Couldn’t go to as many countries then due to the cold war. They were very convenient in their way for getting around – if you went some place and didn’t particularly like you could just get back on the train and go somewhere else. When we took long trips we would try to get on the night trains. If possible, the conductors would make sure no one would come into our compartment and let us sleep through the night. Saved some money by doing that.

  15. Aron Blue

    As I mentioned here before, as a solo singer-songwriter I always use Amtrak when I tour. A rail pass is less than $500 for 15 days and you can get off and on 8 times. There’s also a 30 day option for 689. No sleeper – the seats incline quite nicely and if you bring good earplugs you’ll be okay. Dining car if I want to treat myself. Do my second job freelance work all day, then cocktail in the evenings, which if you’re used to booze prices in any coastal city you will find quite reasonable. Use my hotspot – wifi’s almost nonexistent. Sometimes if the vibe is right I’ll play some Patsy Cline covers for the observation car. I’ve crossed the country 5x or so in the past 3 years, and it’s been amazing, though not easy or luxurious for sure! Long distance Amtrak is like a cruise ship with all the amenities of a minimum security prison.

    California Zephyr beats Southwest Chief any day for views, but I won’t travel through the Rockies in the winter – it’s too scary!

    Also, the Lakeshore Limited from Chicago to New York City is a disgrace. I’m sorry to say that but it’s true. You bounce so much you can’t use a laptop.

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      I believe that freight railroad companies own the railroads on which the Lakeshore Limited must travel, and unless a way is found to torture and terrorise the freight railroads into improving the railroads enough for Amtrak to ride on without bouncing, the bouncing will continue.

      I believe the general attitude the freight railroads have for Amtrak trains riding on their freight rails is one of hostility . . . ranging from muted to aggressive to near vandalistic. There is nothing Amtrak can do about that.

    2. lordkoos

      I was on the Northern Pacific one winter in the Rockies and the train’s plumbing froze up. No bathroom visits for awhile…

      I have a musician friend who tours the EU by train whenever possible.

    3. katiebird

      Do you have to carry all your stuff to dining car or bathroom? I alway fret about the details of traveling multiple days in a chair.

  16. d

    Not really seeing any thing that would appeal to business travelers, as they look at time as money, and with many trips in the US might take several days by train, but hours by air. And some aren’t even possible (trips to and from Hawaii or Puerto Rico from the mainline)

    1. J4Zonian

      Yes, I agree that because no one can take a train from LA to Guam, no one will want to travel by train for business from LA to SF, Seattle, Houston, or Las Vegas.

      By changing a few conditions or assumptions, everything about how people want to travel, and actually do travel those and much longer trips, can change. It’s up to us to change those conditions and assumptions so people will start to act rationally about climate catastrophe.

  17. stan6565

    There is a great rail service through Germany, called auto-zug. You board the sleeper train and load your car at the same time, in Düsseldorf, and then, the following morning you offload in Munich or further down the rail, near Kaprun.

    Not cheapest, but unbeatable if you want to drive from UK to ski in Austria or northern Italy.

  18. Alexandra

    Having traveled via high speed and local trains in the UK, Spain, and Japan, I can’t see why anyone there would choose to travel any other way. The comfort, convenience, and views are worth every penny (or euro or yen).

    Unfortunately, it’s a different story in the US. To travel by sleeper train from where I live in Ohio to where my family live in California costs twice as much as flying. Of course the US is a huge country, and the trip I’m talking about is the equivalent of crossing several European nations, but the point is, train travel here is not priced to compete with airfare. And even though I still like it better than flying, compared to European and Japanese trains, Amtrak definitely does not prioritize passenger comfort, convenience, or aesthetics. It’s one of my bucket list dreams to ride the Empire Builder or California Zephyr (the one thing Amtrak does well is give its routes romantic names)–on top of which I hate airports and am becoming increasingly scared of flying–but it looks unlikely to happen unless my income quadruples (and my vacation days, for that matter).

  19. David Smith

    Families and groups and lonely people could travel for the fun of it. There probably would be people who would take the overnight somewhere and then turn around and immediately come home on another overnight. There are people now who takes breaks from their daytime routines, drive to the airport, and hang out in a members-only lounge for a few hours.

  20. Synoia

    Could Sleeper Trains Replace International Air Travel?

    No.

    Track maintenance is the killer. When the track ages, maintaining the speed and schedule becomes impossible.

    1. Jerri-Lynn Scofield Post author

      They won’t replace air travel anytime soon, but they are a comfortable, environmentally beneficial alternative, and I take the train whenever I can. Less travel stress – and one arrives in the center of one’s destination city.
      We must patronise them, and press the powers that be to maintain and expand these services. Judging from the response to this post, many readers feel as I do.

      1. Synoia

        A case study is Beeching’s treatment, demolition, of the very complete rail network in the UK, in the early ’60s.

        A second, with which I’m not familiar, is the US’ abandonment of Passenger Rail, to Cars and Planes.

        Cars are a curse in densely populated Cities , London, New York, and lead to the urban sprawl of Atlanta, LA and Phoenix.

        I don’t disagree about the environmental benefits of Trains, but I’m not optimistic. My personal view of the world after climate change, is at best, a retreat to Medieval Europe, and not to some mid 19th century equilibrium.

        The easy to mined resources are depleted. We will not be able to maintain the population densities made possible by the Iron and Petroleum age.

        I like traveling by train, and have found Italy and Spain to be a very good examples of affordable, fast train systems. The UK is an example of a very expensive, relatively slow train system. These three examples highlight the difference between state supported trains, and privately run trains.

        But – Maintenance, decline and fall, is the enemy for a long term train based transportation system.

        1. Jerri-Lynn Scofield Post author

          British Rail (and its successors) – terrible. I agree with you re Spanish trains. Ditto Italian, although it’s been a while since I’ve ridden the latter. Last summer, I had occasion to take Polish trains, and found the service between Warsaw and Gdansk to be good – fast, efficient, comfortable, decent dining car..

  21. John

    I’m still so amazed that people can’t see air travel will be dead in the next two decades for most people who aren’t rich.

    The oil crisis is coming folks. Sure as night follows day.

  22. kgw

    In the land of the afflicted, and the home of the skittish, the real problem is train travel appears way too much like socialism. If the passenger trains received a small portion of the subsidies the airlines do, Amtrak wouldn’t have to constantly shift services or attendents around. But all the largess keeps the aerospace sector of the empire’s MIC flush and somewhat ready to build “next-gen” fighter/bombers to keep the proles in their place.

  23. RBHoughton

    The great thing would be for the railways to put their stations in town centres. No more 30 miles taxi to the airport; no more invasive fingering by uniformed strangers with cross-eyes; no more arriving three hours early. Air transport has killed itself.

    We have perfected tunnelling machines. Let’s have our train stations deep underground where we want them. Is there a putative King of the World with vision alive today to fix that?

    1. Jerri-Lynn Scofield Post author

      The train stations are already located in city centers.. That for me is one major attraction of taking the train. Bangkok, Calcutta, Bombay, Delhi, Jaipur, Warsaw, Gdansk, Barcelona, Toulouse, Tangier, Marrakech, Meknes, Casablanca, London, Oxford – these are all cities where I have boarded or exited trains in the city center in the last year or so. While there’s a need to spend some money on the trains or the rail lines themselves, building stations in the city centers isn’t a problem: they are already there.

  24. Larry Y

    I’ve recently used the night train from Venice to Vienna, which took an extra hour because of the clock change for Daylight Savings. The train just waited an hour at the border. Before that, a few decades ago, I traveled Beijing to Nanjing, first class.

    In Taiwan, the high speed rail put the domestic routes out of business. However, the resulting decrease in air travel was then replaced by direct flights to mainland China. One thing we did though, was take the regular train down the scenic and relatively undeveloped east coast of Taiwan, stopping at the cities along the way. If you’re cyclist, you can combine cycling and train tours roughly along the same route.

    Someone else mentioned ferries – for Taiwan, you can take them to Xiamen, and Matsu/Fuzhou. Used to be able to take one to Okinawa, Japan.

  25. J4Zonian

    The best and most up-to-date science shows that the effects of climate catastrophe are happening faster and with more serious consequences than most imagined even 5 years ago. In the next 10 years or less we have to replace at least 90% of fossil fuels with efficiency, wiser lives, and clean safe renewable energy while we transform agriculture and industry, and reforest the planet. Then we need to quickly replace the other 10% of fossil fuels.

    Whatever peaceful means are necessary must be used, or civilization will end over the next century and millions of species will disappear. Taking power away from the lunatic right wing and electing progressives, removing control of the US media from the far right, transforming corporations from their focus on private to a focus on public and ecological good, getting money out of politics, and radically equalizing politically and economically are all crucial, as are many other things. Nationalizing, shutting down, and replacing the fossil fuel, agro-chemical, ICEV, railroad, banking, and some other industries will almost certainly be necessary; the oligarchy has no intention of ever giving up control or coming back to reality by responding to ecological necessity.

    Making all those changes in 10 years will be impossible if we try to keep the extraordinarily extravagant and destructive lives of the richest few percent of people on Earth going; it’s one reason equalizing is necessary. Both military and civilian flying is an indulgence of the globally rich, a monstrous waste of energy and injection of greenhouse gases and other pollution into the Earth system. Private cars also need to be drastically reduced especially in metropolitan areas, and all this needs to be done in a way that people will want to change. IOW, a cheap US/international network of high speed and other rail must hook into hubs of free or nearly free public transit.

    A huge part of freight rail now is the conveyance of fossil fuels; losing this will make it easier to reclaim enough rails or at least priority for passenger use, while we rebuild and improve the ruined US rail system.

  26. Felix_47

    All well and good but given the antipathy many Democrats have to Sanders proposing fundamental change do you see people giving up their SUVs in a couple of years?

    1. J4Zonian

      Most people in the country agree with Sanders on most issues. Even more Democrats agree.

      In the end, if we want civilization to survive we must change almost everything we do almost immediately. But it will not be by altruistic individual choice; it will be people convinced to do what’s both right and needed, by political policies that make it difficult, unpleasant, expensive, shocking, shameful or impossible to do anything else.

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