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Train travels: Holiday greener and cleaner

The way we choose to travel can have a big impact on our contribution to the climate crisis.

In her blog, Sustainable Merton trustee Ruth tells us why she's ditching the plane for the train wherever possible, and shares her top tips for travelling more responsibly...

The first time I used a carbon footprint calculator, when I was just learning about global heating and the climate crisis, I was shocked to find out how much my holiday flights were contributing to my despoilation of the planet.

Two points hit me. I realised that I didn’t actually need to cross continents to find beautiful destinations while there were still vast areas of the UK and Europe with exciting locations where I’d never set foot. Plus alternative methods of travel make the journey a pleasant and interesting part of the holiday experience, rather than something to be endured as a precursor to the actual holiday.

I now have grandchildren living in the South of France, but I probably see them as often as if they were living in Scotland. Booking to go on the train has become part of the holiday visit experience. I can leave London around 8am, stop in Paris to see an exhibition or have lunch, then catch a fast train down south and arrive in time for supper. To join holidays in Eastern Europe the train takes you through plenty of dramatic scenery.

Further away destinations are perfectly accessible too. Stopping off to stay a night in a historic city adds to the interest and with Airbnb or hostel accommodation it needn’t break the bank. Sleeping in a couchette birth on a night train and arriving at dawn can be a memorable experience too – for pleasant reasons!

Meeting a group of people on the same holiday as me, who paid to stay in an uncomfortable airport hotel, spent ages hanging around in an airport, were crammed into a metal box to fly, and then hung around some more to pick up their luggage – if they’re lucky – from a slow carousel makes me realise how lucky I am to have chosen a comfortable, relaxing, interesting rail journey instead.

Those are the experiential reasons for travelling by train as opposed to plane. Very briefly the environmental reasons include the facts that planes consume twice as much oil per km travelled and emit at least twice, more often ten to twenty times, the amount of CO2 per trip, plus lots of extra noxious and environmentally damaging emissions which trains totally avoid (eg nitrogen oxides, ozone etc). Flying definitely contribute to global heating.

As for the practicalities - modern long distance coaches are a possibility worth exploring, but train travel is the obvious alternative to flying. Take some advice and it doesn’t have to be complicated or ridiculously expensive. The website The Man in Seat 61, named after the seat on the original Eurostar trains with the perfect window alignment, explains how to get from one city to another across Europe – which route to take, how long it takes, what time of day to travel, how much it costs and when to book., set up by people who had used The Man in Seat 61’s site, is an easy place to book tickets to most countries.

Eurostar now goes direct to many places apart from Paris and Brussels and their website is easy to use, though be aware that on the homebound trip from these other destinations you will need to get out in Lille for all the security checks, so it takes a bit longer.

I know that there are sometimes good reasons to cross continents and fly to visit family or to carry out important work, and no one should feel guilty about that. But for leisure travel there certainly are other less damaging and more enjoyable options. In those circumstances I really do recommend letting the train take the strain and steering clear of airport tedium and cattle class flying boxes.

If you make a Flight-free 2020 pledge you will be in good company! Read all about it in this article: Could you give up flying? Meet the no-plane pioneers - The Guardian


Sustainable Merton Trustee


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