Speedy rail travel on track to grow

More Aussies using rail networks to connect with destinations they're visiting

Rail Online's James Dunn, CEO and Kirsty Blows, GM AU/NZ

Train journeys are on the radars of travel-hungry Australians looking to take in the scenery of Europe, the UK and North America while they get from A to B. Rising eco-awareness and a growing preference for slower, more immersive travel is driving the demand, and it’s about to get even easier for them to see the world by rail.

Australian travellers are becoming increasingly aware that rail travel generates just a fraction of the carbon emissions of air travel, says James Dunne, CEO Rail Online. “This is already a major issue in Europe, where more countries are expected to follow the lead of the French government and ban short-haul domestic flights.”

Rail Online is a train booking platform that travel advisors are increasingly relying on to compare, plan and book rail adventures across the globe.

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Dunne says Australians who have already reunited with loved ones post-pandemic are now planning dream holidays in Europe and North America, and the cost savings and convenience of train travel is proving irresistible. The steady re-introduction of long-haul air capacity is likely to drive airfares prices down, further releasing pent-up demand for travel to those destinations, he says.

“In 2022 Australians used rail networks to reconnect with the people they love, this year it’s all about rail journeys to the places they love,” Dunne said.

Global train travel taking off

The European Union plans to double high-speed rail use by 2030 and triple current levels by 2050.

“More than 130 transport infrastructure projects – including major rail initiatives – have already been selected for EU grants totalling in excess of EUR5.4 billion,” Dunne said at an event in Sydney on Tuesday. “One project will see the Czech Republic introduce new 350 km/h rail lines that will dramatically cut travel times between Prague and cities across Austria, Slovakia, Poland and Germany. Another major rail infrastructure project, the Fehmarn Belt tunnel, will create an undersea link between Denmark and Germany, reducing an hour-long ferry voyage to a seven-minute high-speed journey.”

Bookings for 2023 are particularly strong on the London-Edinburgh and London-Paris routes, plus key routes from Paris to the South of France.

Kirsty Blows, General Manager Australia and New Zealand at Rail Online says operators on both sides of the Atlantic are also investing heavily in fleet upgrades and network expansions.

“In North America, Amtrak’s fleet of more than 300 trains now includes 20 Acela high-speed trainsets, which reach speeds of up to 240 km/h,” Blows said. “And in Europe we’re seeing the introduction of luxurious sleeper services and the extension of popular services, including Eurostar, which now operates a London-Rotterdam-Amsterdam service five times a day.”

The EU has also moved to remove barriers to competition between national passenger rail systems. Trenitalia, for instance, has launched a high-speed service between Milan and Paris, competing directly with France’s National Railway Company (SNCF).

“This year we expect to see Spain’s state-owned rail network Renfe extend its high-speed AVE services into France,” Blows adds. “In addition, in 2024 France and Germany will launch a new TGV service between Paris and Berlin, while Trenitalia is scheduled to unveil a new Frecciarossa service between Paris and Madrid (via Barcelona).

Business travel by train

Frequent business fliers are not going back to their pre-pandemic ways. Instead, they’re taking advantage of high-speed trains across Europe as a guilt-free alternative to short-haul flights, and finding the experience comparable to business-class travel (just more productive).

Eurostar now offers Business Premier lounges in London, Paris and Brussels, for example, and Executive-Class carriages make travel extra comfortable. Trenitalia’s Frecciarossa high-speed trains have reclinable seats in Executive Class, each with window views and 180-degree rotation. Luxury sleeper services are also about to be unveiled by Austrian national rail company ÖBB (Vienna/Munich to Milan, Genoa and La Spezia) and Belgian-Dutch cooperative, European Sleeper (Brussels to Berlin via Amsterdam).

Eurostar's Paris Business Premiere lounge

Rail Online celebrates its first anniversary this month, and is on track to grow exponentially. “I’ve never heard train travel talked about with such sentiment as it is now,” Blows said.

Rail Online is growing in popularity as travel advisors (and travellers) learn how much time and confusion they can save – best-deal rail tickets and passes can be purchased via Rail Online with no booking fees, and the timetables and amount of time they can book in advance is made clear for each country. All booked trips can be managed on the easy-to-navigate app or website, and there’s a quick refund process.

Although there’s no need to get to train platforms as early as airport gates, Blows advises travellers get there an hour or two early to people-watch and enjoy the bustle and often beautiful surroundings of train stations. The self-confessed train fanatic counts Kyoto, Chicago, Paris and Washington DC train stations as among her favourites. Rail passes make train travel exceptionally affordable, she says.

“With the Eurail Global pass now offering 33 countries, including the UK, it represents outstanding value and is ideal for Australians visiting three or more countries. Not surprisingly it’s shaping up to be the most popular pass for our customers in 2023.”

More at rail.online/au

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