Jan 052007

The Uk government this morning laid into the airline industry for being environmentally irresponsible. I don’t know whether this is fair or not (although I lean towards it being fair given how airlines campaign against air fuel taxes and other such things that might affect their bottom line), but there is¬†something daft about how we all travel on our holidays using airplanes.

Of course they are very convenient and for some distant destinations there is no real alternative. But certainly for short-haul flights, it does seem rather peculiar that we insist on travelling by shoving an immense amount of weight upwards using fossil fuels when it would seem that it should be possible to travel along the ground far more efficiently (and with the possibility of using less environmentally damaging fuels).

The obvious alternative for short-haul flights is the train, so why don’t we ? Well, it is quite possibly convenience. For my own travels in Europe (rather limited) I have looked at the possibility of going via train, but ended up in the air for convenience. Not that air travel is that convenient, but it does seem so compared with train travel.

For instance, travelling from my home town to Pamplona in Spain involves 4 trains including a trip on the Paris metro. Hardly convenient when carrying large amounts of luggage! Changing trains in the same station is bad enough, but changing stations is a nightmare! Especially if you are worried about missing your connection.

Ideally it wouldn’t be necessary to change at all, but I can’t see being able to catch a direct train from my home town to Pamplona even if there was just one a week! However I think that train companies could invest in making more direct trains possible, or even ensuring that someone making a difficult transfer is guided on their way (imagine carrying a sign saying “Here For Guide to Station X”).

The train companies could also try a little harder for online information. Finding information on European train journeys is not always easy, and when you do you can often find that you can’t book online, or you have to book different legs of the journey in different places. Make it easier please!

More generally we need to consider ways of making our transport needs more environmentally friendly. Not just by punishing bad choices (taxing air travel), but by using the carrot as well … making train travel cheaper and easier. For longer journeys, why not try re-introduce airships ? At the very least these would be a good option for replacing air-freight … not quite as fast, but a good deal quicker than by sea. And as someone who has experience of tracking packages shipped internationally, I can say that the actual time in the air is usually a small percentage of the total travel time.