As someone whose research is focused on not only railway transportation but the impacts of weather and climate change on rail infrastructure itself, I admit that I have flown an embarrassing number of times over the last few years. My biggest shame is even flying to Dublin to attend the European Climate Change Conference. And even though some joke that by flying I am ensuring my future job security I feel the effects of ‘Flygskam’ or flight shame more and more. Growing up in Canada train travel isn’t really any option or at least no one I know has ever even tried. I spent most summers visiting my grandparents in Switzerland mesmerised by the perfect, punctual, seamless rail network (rest of Europe please take notes). It wasn’t until a colleague asked me why do you always fly to Switzerland from Copenhagen? and catching up with a fellow rail researcher from KTH at the World Congress of Railway Research in Birmingham last June 2022 who took the train from Stockholm to Birmingham that I slowly began to more seriously consider the possibility of taking more long distance train travel in Europe. More and more friends of me have started doing the same as well. Going from Copenhagen to Budapest or Valencia to visit friends or family or doing more summer Interrail trips. So, I thought this really is the time to change my habits.
I always had the rule that I would not fly within Sweden or Denmark but at the beginning of this year I decided that I would not fly expect to Canada; which I am ashamed to say did not work. However, a slightly shifted goal landed me on a rule to not fly to any destination where I could take the train within 1-2 days. An invitation to a workshop at French rail company SNCF on June 29th, 2023, seemed like the perfect opportunity to put this adjusted goal into action. I always enjoyed travelling by train as a kid and I thought to myself I have to work anyways so why not from a train rather than my office and really see my research in action! I was able to book a 4-day Interrail pass which gives so much flexibility for choosing the route that works best for you. In this case it also was almost the same cost as flying. So double win. If you are a pessimist like me this flexibility also means scheduling long change over times between trains. I spend most of my working days in an office with people who research all sorts of reasons for trains being late, from maintenance scheduling to infrastructure failures, to passenger behaviour, and spending a lot of time outside work in my free time listening to people complain about trains being so unreliable, so you can’t blame me.
I started my journey on the night train from Malmö to Hamburg, which I must say I was so pleased to see packed with people and fully booked. I hear often how unreliable trains are and how much more expensive they are compared to flying which I admit is often the main reasons for me choosing to fly over the train. Once you are in Hamburg there are so many options to travel around Europe. You can go to Munich and then catch a night train to Rome or Zagreb. Head over towards London or even go directly to Budapest. I can highly recommend using the Deutsche Bahn website for checking connections and possibilities to travel by train around Europe or the Rail Planner app from Interrail. Once I reached Hamburg it was an easy hop over to Cologne, and then a direct Cologne to Paris connection. Or so I thought. The Cologne to Paris connection was cancelled due to an unannounced strike, which actually never even happened. This really stressed me out but luckily due to my Interrail there was flexibility to hop on other trains. One thing to be mindful of is seat reservations, which some routes require you to book, such Eurostar trains and of course the Thayls train between Cologne and Paris. It seemed the rest of the trains to Paris were fully booked for the rest of the day and I was unsure of how to continue. I decided to continue on to Brussels and see what happened from there. The Flixbus was still an option to carry on in the worst case however I just decided to ask the station manager of the next Brussels to Paris train if there really weren’t any seats left. Luckily, he let myself and two other Interrailers on who were in the same position as me. So, hurray, it was off to Paris. On the way home it was a rather smooth journey, starting the day at 7:30 and getting home just after midnight.
I’ll admit it’s not always easy (cue spending an unexpected night in Hamburg on my way back to Malmö from Switzerland last Christmas and this trip’s cancelled journey between Cologne and Paris) but if you stay open minded and go with the flow it’s always an adventure, and hey it is always an interesting conversation starter at your meeting or conference. I plan to continue to choose rail for more future business and personal travel. And hope to work up to my ultimate goal to travel by surface travel back home to Vancouver, Canada from Malmö only via surface modes of transport, and encourage more people to choose trains over planes along the way. Finally, to honour an ongoing rivalry in my division, trains are also always better than busses 😊