In April, analysts at UBS predicted that a long-term shift in attitudes around climate change, travel and work triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic could accelerate the shift of passengers from air to rail post-lockdown, with greater than expected growth in the rail industry over the next 10 years.
Fast forward to August, we are beginning to see parts of this prediction substantiated. As country-wide lockdowns are lifted and travel restrictions have started to ease, domestic travel is recovering first.
Research from business travel provider TravelPerk, one of our partners who we supply rail content to, shows that before COVID-19, TravelPerk customers were booking approximately three flights for every train journey. The crisis has since brought the airline industry to an abrupt halt. New safety measures at airports could strip away some of air travel’s perceived efficiency benefits. TravelPerk are now seeing customers increasingly choosing rail. In Germany, travellers used to book two flights per rail journey, currently they are booking four times as many rail journeys as flights.
At Trainline, we not only provide access to over 270 rail and coach carriers across 45 countries for our TMC, OBT and OTA customers, we are also keeping the end traveller front of mind, delivering friction free travel through a best in class digital booking experience and offering digital tickets as widely as possible.
Before COVID-19, many travellers were still buying their tickets directly at the stations. We believe COVID-19 is driving a mindset change towards online purchasing and digital tickets as it allows for contactless, safer and more convenient travel. Customers no longer want to queue at stations to purchase their ticket. They want to book in the safety of their office or home, get straight on the train and minimise physical contact with staff or station kiosks. Booking with Trainline enables that.
When we look at the long-term trends, we see that global businesses and governments are investing significantly in the future of rail to support sustainability goals. Across Europe, there is £176bn of high-speed rail investment planned over the next ten years. With rail generating less than 1/20 of the CO2 emissions of air travel and approximately 1/7 of the CO2 emissions compared with car travel, per passenger, modal shift to rail can make a big difference.
It is therefore not surprising, that the European Commission has announced that 2021 will be the “Year of Rail” and made rail a focal point of the European Union’s green agenda.
These priorities are mirrored in member states. In France, rail-first is now policy: as part of its €7bn Air France bailout, the government ordered the airline not to compete with the TGV rail service on shorter routes. Similarly, in Austria, as part of the conditions attached to a €600 million government bailout, Austrian Airlines has agreed to remove domestic flights that can be done by rail in less than three hours to help reduce carbon emissions.
As these improvements happen, we are seeing business travellers appreciate the benefits of travelling by rail. It offers a less fragmented travel experience and a productive working environment. Rail is more convenient in many cases as train stations are usually close to city centres, travel by train is generally faster than by car and there is no need to queue in security at an airport. On many routes such as Madrid-Barcelona, Munich-Berlin it is faster than the plane, taking into account time to get to and spent in the airport. This translates to employees expecting to be able to book rail in a company’s chosen travel platform, which is what Trainline can help provide.
In summary, rail plays a crucial role in economic recovery and the transition towards sustainable transport by offering a viable replacement for short-haul flights and long car journeys. Access to booking train travel is a growing priority for business travellers. Corporate travel providers should provide the broadest range of options to suit changing travel needs.