5 reasons why rail travel is trending for business trips

Let’s say you have a meeting. You’re currently in Amsterdam, but your meeting is with a potential partner in Paris. Between the two cities there’s a total distance of 507km. So how do you choose to travel?

It's no surprise that there are plenty of short-haul flights to choose from – usually with a travel time of around one hour and a quarter.

However, there is also a direct train option. But it’s going to take up three hours and twenty minutes of your day.    

With such a difference in travel time, the flight should be the obvious choice, right? Perhaps not.

At least for national and regional trips, it seems now that the train may increasingly be the top choice for people in your hypothetical shoes.

In fact, TravelPerk has seen train adoption grow strongly in Europe over the past few years, with 52% more train journeys than flights booked during the fourth quarter of 2022 compared to the same period in 2019.[1]

But why? What is behind this latest travel trend?

As it turns out, there are 5 big reasons – and plenty of data to back it up.


1. It (can be) cheaper

Airfare prices are soaring in Europe, thanks to inflation and rising fuel costs.

This has resulted in a growing number of employees opting to travel by train rather than plane.

Train travel also seems to be the better deal when it comes to shorter trips. Especially for last minute bookings – a common occurrence in business travel – trains can be cheaper than an equivalent flight.      

And that’s not just the ticket cost. Many trains offer extras such as free Wi-Fi onboard, which can make a big difference in productivity or at least for entertainment. You also don’t need to pay for stowing your baggage, which can be the case for some low-cost airlines.

2022 also saw the introduction of many cheap (or even free) travel schemes enter the scene, and many of those have continued to grow in popularity throughout 2023.

There’s Spain’s free trains scheme, Germany’s unlimited €49 rail pass travel. And, countries such as Austria and Hungary have started to introduce cheaper “climate tickets” to encourage more rail travel.

All things considered, it’s well worth doing a price comparison. The closer you are to your travel date, the better value the train may be. And don’t forget to factor in the cost of getting to and from the station or airport either – that can also make a difference.


2. It’s convenient

Flying can be fun but some aspects can make it quite stressful.

You have to arrive at the airport (at least) two hours before your flight, then struggle with security and of course, the dreaded wait at baggage reclaim.
Safe to say that airports don’t always exactly inspire excitement.      

There’s also the fact that if you’re flying economy, then you’re unlikely to get much work done during your flight.    

Trains are much more convenient in this regard.      

Depending on where you sit, there are usually tables and plug sockets for charging your devices.

There’s also no need to remove liquids or batteries from your bag or, depending on where you are going, take your shoes off.      

At the same time, train stations are generally well located within the city – often near the center. That makes it less of a headache getting to your hotel or office. And you can arrive at the station just 15 minutes before departure.

Looking specifically at Belgium and the Netherlands, we can easily consider these countries real train hubs. Not only do they both have an extensive regular train network for daily passenger transport. The high-speed lines by TGV, ICE and Eurostar trains also provide a regular and fast connection with the rest of Europe.

That’s not to mention night trains, which are making a comeback in Europe.[2] These trains offer a different experience that – if incorporated into your planning – can be convenient, cheaper (saves a night in a hotel), and more luxurious than struggling to sleep on a flight.                                

There are of course business class options that are suited to those traveling for business. This may even be a solution for longer journeys that would otherwise be inconvenient to make by rail.

So yeah, trains can be a much more convenient, scenic, and comfortable travel option for business travelers. But there is another key factor to the convenience offered by trains (at least in some cases): speed.


3. It’s quicker (sometimes)

On top of the convenience, there is also a speed factor.

Of course, this is heavily dependent on the distance and the train itself (high-speed rail naturally has the upper hand). There is a time and a place for train travel – only a dedicated few would be interested in spending days in a carriage for their intercontinental trip. However, a quick search online will make it appear as though train rides are significantly slower in many cases. But this doesn’t show the full picture. In fact, there are cases where flights are actually slower when compared to trains – and that’s despite having a significantly longer travel time on paper.

Once you factor in all the long airport wait times, if a destination is within 500 kilometers, it’ll often be faster for a corporate traveler to go by train rather than plane.

So, although flying may be considered the fastest mode of transport, train travel may actually end up being faster than flying for short trips.


4. It’s more sustainable

You can’t talk about the current business travel scene without mentioning sustainability.      

As countries across the world are joining the fight against climate change, the shift to rail for business travel is now more crucial than ever.

And we’re living in a time of ESG data availability, with the ability to track and measure your carbon emissions, which means there’s plenty of reason to consider your focus on sustainability goals.

And it’s not just the governments and investors that are eager to ramp-up sustainability efforts. It’s a big topic in the minds of travelers – especially those who travel regularly for work.

In fact, a survey by Global Railway Review found that 72% of business travelers[3] would like to increase the use of lower carbon modes of transport such as rail in 2023.      

As it turns out, domestic flights are not particularly environmentally friendly. When considering the carbon emissions and secondary effects, domestic flights emit around ¼ tonne greenhouse gas emissions per passenger per hour [4] of flying. That’s around 6x more than domestic rail.

It is worth mentioning that it is now becoming increasingly common to offset carbon emissions from flying – even directly during the booking process.

However, this will ultimately add to the price and make these short-haul flights even less competitive in that sense.    

Finally (and excitingly) Eurostar celebrated five years of travel between London and Amsterdam, totaling 1.6 million rail journeys, where more than 84,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide were saved [5], which is the equivalent of over 10,000 plane loads.

And in terms of carbon footprint, one flight between London to Amsterdam is equivalent to seven Eurostar journeys.      


5. It’s only going to get more competitive

As time goes on and priorities shift, the topic of transport has become more and more in focus.

Sure, there are topics like MaaS (Mobility-as-a-Service), which are changing the way we as travelers interact with travel providers. But other forces, such as the government or even advances in technology, are making rail transport even more competitive.

Today's technology is challenging the historically poor and fragmented data within the rail sector, allowing for a more sophisticated approach towards cost reductions and improved service.

And any healthy competition means lower prices, inspired technology and more options for travel.

Looking again at that rail trip from Zurich to Milan, there’s more to the story than meets the eye. If you know your geography, you may have realized that this trip would see you heading towards the Swiss Alps. The journey used to go around the mountains, taking over four hours.

But in 2016, the €11 billion Gotthard Base Tunnel was completed, offering a shortcut through the Swiss Alps, and cutting half an hour off the journey time.

And finally, this year started off strong with a new legislation introduced by the French government and signed into French law, where a ban of short-haul flights on a number of domestic routes.

This has led to changes in the way businesses approach localized travel.

Naturally, this preference for trains has a limit, and exactly what that limit is changes from company to company.


The bottom line

As you can see, there seems to be a new trend brewing.

Now with business travel firmly on its way to recovery post-pandemic, business trips are back.      

But t
rain travel in particular will now be prioritized where possible. Domestic travel or shorter trips will be those looked at with the most scrutiny – especially in Europe where the rail infrastructure, the availability of high-speed rail is rather good, and there are no border or customs checks to deal with.

It isn’t all cut and dry, however. Price, travel time, travel time reliability, frequency of the connections and other factors like personal preference also play a big role in the use of rail vs plane.

It may ultimately be external factors that steer this trend onward. Is the right infrastructure there? It seems so. And with governments having a say in the matter, investment in rail seems to be increasing too.

But this is just one of the many shifts happening in the business travel scene right now, right next to exciting new technologies like the metaverse, for example.

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[1] https://skift.com/2023/04/17/trains-not-planes-are-increasingly-business-travelers-preferred-choice-in-europe/

[2] https://adventure.com/overnight-train-travel-no-fly-europe-sustainable/

[3] https://www.globalrailwayreview.com/news/141028/uk-survey-finds-business-travellers-want-to-increase-use-of-rail/ 

[4] https://www.carbonindependent.org/22.html

[5] https://mediacentre.eurostar.com/mc_view?language=us-en&article_Id=ka43z000000g8pjAAA

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