June 03, 2023

Why Trains beat planes for travel in Europe

Travel writing doyen, Jeremy Bourke, ponders the many advantages of training versus planing through Europe. His considered verdict follows.

Ah, the irony. I'm gliding between the Austrian city of Villach and beautiful Salzburg, writing this ode to the joys of rail travel – on a train I shouldn't be on. I caught the right one, from Slovenia's capital Ljubljana to Frankfurt, and it departed 10 minutes late. Acceptable.

But that was enough to derail my trip, because at Villach, just a quarter of the journey complete, they announced the train was terminating. Whatever opening the EC212 was aiming for, that 10-minute hiccup closed it, and it was two hours until the next train.

This situation is the exception to the rule in Europe where rail rules. Indeed, in May a new French law banned flights between cities less than two-and-a-half hours apart by train. It's to reduce greenhouse emissions, so it should open more people's eyes to rail over its alternative, air. There won't be electric planes any time soon.

In Europe trains go from anywhere to everywhere, and one ticket, such as the venerable Eurail Pass, gets you there, no matter how many changes of service, station or country. There's none of that super-vigilance over your carry-on, nor that frantic emptying of pockets at security. There's a view for the entire journey, and from all seats.

For me, the clincher is location, location, location. Stations are often in the middle of town, and gone are the days where railway hotels are generally seedy. European stations are as slick as any airport terminal, and my favourite is Vienna's, ultra-modern, efficient and boasting all manner of restaurants, food outlets and shopping. I stayed in the new Ibis Wien Hauptbahnhof, one minute from the station and just $175 a night.

And in more good news, Eurail Pass is now a phone app. When my Frankfurt train went kaput, it came up with new connections in 60 seconds. Uber-easy.

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