High Speed Train Disservice

SUBHEAD: High speed train connections accompany elimination of slightly slower, but much more affordable, alternatives.

By Kris De Decker on 16 December 2013 for Low-Tech Magazine -

Image above: This now retired train, the Trenhotel Joan Miró, went between Barcelona and Paris from 1991 to 2013. It was cheaper and faster than the current high speed train. Photo by Sergio Evangelio. From original article.

High speed rail is marketed as a sustainable alternative to air traffic. According to the International Union of Railways, the high speed train "plays a key role in a stage of sustainable development and combating climate change". As a regular long-distance train traveller in Europe, I have to say that the opposite is true. High speed rail is destroying the most valuable alternative to the airplane; the "low speed" rail network that has been in service for decades.

The introduction of a high speed train connection invariably accompanies the elimination of a slightly slower, but much more affordable, alternative route, forcing passengers to use the new and more expensive product, or abandon the train altogether.

As a result, business people switch from full-service planes to high speed trains, while the majority of Europeans are pushed into cars, coaches and low-cost airplanes.

A look at European railway history shows that the choice for the elite high speed train is far from necessary. Earlier efforts to organize speedy international rail services in Europe accompanied affordable prices and different ways to increase the speed and comfort of a rail trip. Quite a few of these services were even faster than today's high speed trains.

Five years ago I promised my readers I would not fly anymore. Hopping on a plane would be a hypocritical thing to do when you run a publication called Low-tech Magazine.

Since then, I have been travelling across Europe almost exlusively by train (apart from the occasional boat trip), good for some 70,000 km of long-distance travel. I went as far north as Helsinki, as far south as Málaga, and as far east as Budapest. Europe has the most amazing railway network in the world. It gets you anywhere, anytime, and it's much more fun and interesting to travel by train than by air.

However, this is not the time to get lyrical about the pleasures of long-distance train travel. Every year, it becomes harder to keep my promise, and the advance of the high speed train is to blame. As more and more reliable train routes are shut down in favour of high speed lines, international train travel becomes prohibitively expensive. Strangely enough, many of these abolished routes are almost as fast, and sometimes even faster, than the new, expensive high speed connections.

As an example, let's have a look at the route which I cover most often: from Barcelona, Spain (where I live) to the Netherlands and Belgium (where I grew up). It is now possible to travel all the way from Barcelona to Amsterdam by high speed train, a trip of 1,700 km. The final link between Barcelona and the French border was inaugurated December 15, 2013. Great news, you would think...

Not so! To find out much more and see many photos of trains as well as a detailed history of faltering rail service in Europe read original article in Low-Tech Magazine


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