Environmental concerns could cause a boom in rail travel post COVID-19

Photo credit: Photo by Johannes Rapprich via Pexels.

By Anders Lorenzen

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic travelling by train had seen a resurgence largely caused by climate change worries.

Then the pandemic happened with many countries around the world putting in place national lockdowns. Social distancing made public transport, including rail travel, seem unsafe and more difficult and so car travel increased.

A boost to train travel?

But, analysis by Global Data, an analytical firm, suggests travelling by train could experience a boom post-pandemic. 

In their latest global survey, 48% of respondents said that reducing their environmental footprint is now more important to them than before the pandemic. 37% said that their views remained the same. Global Data speculates that rail travel might be one of the winners once we are out of the pandemic as it is a more environmentally friendly mode of transport than driving and flying. However, they don’t believe it will surpass air travel.

Environmental concerns likely to figure higher in travel planning

Global Data’s Travel & Tourism Analyst, Johanna Bonhill-Smith commented: “Prior to COVID-19, the environmental impacts of tourism were already under intense scrutiny. The ‘flygskam’ (flight shame) movement (which originated in Sweden in 2019), was gathering traction across Europe as individuals were being criticized for neglecting the impact that flying can have on the environment.” 

She added that it is set to be taken more seriously than prior to the pandemic: “As countries have introduced stringent lockdown restrictions to battle the pandemic, travellers have been made more aware of the detrimental impacts travel can have on a destination, and therefore environmental concerns are likely to be a key consideration in future travel booking.”

Global Data also said that on the back of the survey it appeared that 36% of tourists wanted to know more about a company`s sustainability initiatives. This is up by 2% compared to their previous survey done last year signalling an upward trend.

Bonhill-Smith added: “For global domestic tourism, rail travel has long topped that of air travel. In 2019, 2.1 billion trips were taken by rail compared to just over 1 billion by air. International travel, on the other hand, is strikingly different as just 41 million international departures were taken by rail in 2019, compared to 735 million by air.”

Eurostar reducing air travel

The emergence of budget airlines has made air travel, once considered a luxury, often cheaper and easier than train travel. But there have been some significant wins for the train industry. Such a win is the Eurostar network travelling from London to mainland Europe which has, for instance, halved air travel demand between London and Paris.. There are plans to further extend the network linking up with other European train operators making train travel across Europe easier, cheaper and more efficient.

Johanna Bonhill-Smith explained that in 2021 depending on whether and when we will have a COVID-19 vaccine in place more people could choose to holiday locally which should benefit train operators.

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