Climate Change:Let the Train take the Strain?

Carbon footprints, climate change, pollution, environmental damage and air quality are increasingly among the issues that many travellers are taking into account when they are planning holidays and trips.

These terms are certainly discussed in many of the discussion groups I have joined. I’ve also been asked just how green it is for me to go travelling which is a very fair question.

For the vast majority of my trip (and I am well aware that I haven’t written about where I am going yet, soon, promise) I’m planning to travel by train. It’s currently looking likely that I will take seven flights during the year. That is more than I take in an average year – in some years it has been more.

Flights are cheap and quick. Vacations from work are short. We’re in a hurry to fit as much in to our time off work as possible but there is an environmental cost to tourism.

This excellent article in Nature (2018) highlights that between 2009 and 2013 tourism’s carbon footprint has increased four times more than expected and accounts for 8% of global greenhouse emissions. Transport, shopping and food are the key factors and unsurprisingly, it’s affluent nations with the biggest footprints.

And I am going to contribute to this.

From the start of my planning, I’ve been keen to minimise the number of flights I will take and I’ve used The Man in Seat 61 to plan the trip. Actually, at this rate, I’ve probably used the website to plan my next three trips…. “oooh, that’s a good idea”.

It was this website that showed me that it’s possible to travel by train from Manchester (UK) to Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam), so I’m going to. (I’ve since discovered there’s a travel company organising trips from Wigan (down the road from Manchester) to Pyongyang, and I’m quite taken by that notion as well).

So, with Europe on the doorstep and Eurostar providing easy links to Continent, why don’t more of the British travel by train? I’ve already partially answered that: time. One week’s leave, how much is the journey part of the trip?

The other part of the answer, especially for anyone who doesn’t live in London, is the price of tickets to get to the Eurostar terminal at St Pancras.

Booking in advance through Virgin Trains, for a ticket from Manchester to London Euston, travelling on the 1st September 2019 is £88. The cost of an overnight ticket from London to Berlin on the 1st September 2019 is £62.12.

The British leg of the journey is approximately 200 miles and takes around two hours. The international leg is approximately 680 miles and will take fifteen hours (and provide me with overnight accommodation too).

The cost of a flight (from Manchester to Berlin) is considerably cheaper, especially when travelling with children. And, while train prices don’t increase in the school holidays (whereas flights most certainly do), it’s a fair bet to assume that once we’re all travelling by train that would soon change: “Will madam be paying by credit card or with a kidney?”

When I was much younger, I went inter railing around Scandinavia and with the young person’s pass it saved me a fortune. Let’s face it, there are cheaper places to visit than Norway when you’re a student.

So imagine my delight when I discovered that you can get Eurail passes even if you’re not under 24. “Hallelujah,” I thought, and it’s only the fact that the main European part of my trip is over eleven months away and I couldn’t book it that means I haven’t splashed £450 for a two month rail pass.

I can hear you say: “That’s a bargain! Why on earth wouldn’t you?”

It certainly is a bargain when you think about UK prices but it isn’t when you look at European rail tickets, especially if you book in advance. I’ve never failed to be surprised by how cheaply you can buy train tickets online for Italy, Austria and Germany. In advance that is.

The prices are slightly more eye watering if you pop into the station at the last minute – the spontaneous daytrip from Salzburg to Innsbruck didn’t happen.

The Eurail pass is definitely worth it if you’re young or if you’re planning a fly by the seat of pants trip. I’m a planner – there’s a spreadsheet (colourcoded of course), a paper diary and an online calendar for future proofing – and I’ll save money by pre booking my tickets.

So for me, the train travel is part of the travelling experience, not only a means to an end. Although I’m still taking seven flights (probably), the vast majority of the distances I’m covering will be by train and most of those flights are when I can’t go by rail.

*Featured Photo… not many of my journeys will be by steam train but this shot was taken at Ramsbottom Railway Station, part of the East Lancashire Steam Railway. It’s a really good day out, with stops including some very pretty Lancashire villages with excellent tea rooms, bars and I heartily recommend The Mousetrap in Ramsbottom for cheese and wine.

Categories: Public Health, TravelTags: , , , , , , ,


  1. Well done! I’ve been inspired to do something myself, so I have started a non-profit YT channel to try and help save the environment. If you could check it out, that would be much appreciated!


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