Give the train a more prominent role in the future of Europe

Het Financieele Dagblad

Air France has decided to cancel all domestic flights for which a train journey takes up to two and a half hours. According to Floris de Haan and Susan Vermeulen, researchers at the Erasmus Centre for Urban, Port and Transport Economics, the train should get a more prominent role in the future of Europe.

Unprofitable domestic flights

In 2013, Air France made losses of 717 million euros on domestic flights. In 2018 this loss amounted to 189 million euros, after which the carrier decided to decrease the number of domestic flights by 15%. What still stands in the way of a further reduction of the number of domestic flights in favour of the train?

Faster or comparable train connections

De Haan and Vermeulen observe a very high number of domestic flight routes when analysing the top ten flight routes between European cities in 2018. Shockingly, eight of the ten routes are within the same country and for six of them, taking the train only takes around one and a half time as long. Every day, an average of 6758 passengers flew between Madrid and Barcelona while the train connection between the cities comparable or even faster.

Missing market forces

De Haan and Vermeulen calculated that between Toulouse and Paris, the occupancy rate is 80% for air travel and only 67% for train travel. This means that on average, 28% of the capacity is unused. Between Berlin and Frankfurt, the occupancy rate is even lower: 75% for air travel and only 55% for the train. In free markets, market forces should create an equilibrium which eliminates overcapacity, but market forces do not appear to be involved here.

The future of Europe

De Haan and Vermeulen believe that the current crisis in the aviation industry should be seen as an opportunity to change our behaviour towards air travel. The European Commission should only provide airport slots to flights for which the train is not a viable alternative. In other words, seize this opportunity and give the train a more prominent role in the future of Europe.

More information

The full article from Het Financieele Dagblad, 25 May 2020, can be downloaded above  (in Dutch).