Trains could replace thousands of flights from Amsterdam’s Schipol Airport within the next decade, if certain conditions are met, according to a new study by the Dutch Knowledge Institute for Mobility (KiM).
Focusing on 13 cities that already have direct flight connections with, and are situated a maximum distance of 800 km (497 miles) from, Amsterdam, the study’s authors analysed rail service evolution across that network and the potential for travellers to “be tempted to take the train in the future”, the Institute said in a press release.
Up to 1.6 million fewer plane journeys by 2040?
The 13 European cities looked at were: London, Bristol, Birmingham, Paris, Basel, Brussels, Berlin, Hanover, Hamburg, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, Munich and Copenhagen. KiM projected that approximately 5,600 flights to and from these cities could be replaced with rail travel by 2030. “With an average aircraft occupancy of 150 passengers, this translates to roughly 850,000 journeys annually,” the Institute pointed out. The study predicts this could go up to 1.6 million journeys (11,000 flights) by 2040, accounting for 6% and 10% of air travel on these routes, respectively.
Trains need to become quicker, cheaper and more convenient
There are caveats though. The potential shift in mobility patterns from air to rail is dependent on assumptions around train journey times becoming shorter, and daily train schedules offering more options, with faster connections to Berlin and intercity trains to Brussels part of the equation. Published plans by governments, infrastructure managers and carriers are the only guarantees that these assumptions are correct, and some evidence suggests that rail investment has actually seen a decline over the last decades.
KiM also considered the impact of pushing rail development even further. Two factors found to be potentially game-changing were reducing the cost of taking a train by 20% and removing barriers to seamless plane-train travel (such as the current lack of combined train-flight tickets and issues around baggage handling for passengers attempting to connect from a plane to the train network at Schipol).
If these advances around ticket price and transfer convenience could be met, the shift from plane to train would increase to around 2.3 million air journeys by 2030 and 3.4 million air journeys per year in by 2040. These figures would represent a significant 18% and 22% of all air travel on the 13 connections.
Less air travel already
While the predictions present an impressive picture of a potentially more sustainable travel network in the near future, it should be noted the figures are actually a downgrade to previous estimations of the plane-train shift. That’s because the last time the issue was examined in 2018, the volume of air travel across the 13 cities was about a fifth higher than it is now, partly due to Covid-19’s impact.
The authors say “less air travel automatically means that fewer passengers can be tempted to make their journey by train instead of plane.” Others might argue it means a shift away from aviation has already begun.