Train travel in Europe and the UK

We’ve covered a lot of miles by train this year, both in the UK and on the continent.  Here are some brief  notes about it.

We did several long journeys: the bare facts first and then some reflections.

Manchester to Inverness in May.  The sleeper was all booked up so we had to take day trains.  A bit of a nightmare when the first train, to Edinburgh was cancelled on our arrival at (Manchester) Piccadilly.  Wrong information from station staff meant a longer time to get to Preston than was necessary to pick up another Edinburgh train. Of course all our seat reservations were to no avail and we had to stand for some of the way to Stirling.  We got into Inverness about 90 minutes late which entitled us to a refund of the full price forthe outward journey.  The return journey went smoothly (and it was Sunday too).

Manchester to Budapest in August/September.  Down to London, an overnight there and then Brussels and Cologne before taking the Austrian Railways sleeper to Vienna.  A couple of days there and then a morning train to Budapest for the 5th International Degrowth Conference.  Return to Salzburg for a couple of days and then all the way back to Manchester by daytime trains.  A lot of this journey was on First Class as there were some very cheap advance deals.

Manchester to Gothenburg, later in September.  Down to London and just caught Eurostar after delays due to a prior derailment near Watford.  Then Brussels, Cologne again and Hamburg for an overnight.  Hamburg-Copenhagen (see previous post about this interesting journey on the “boat train”) and up to Gothenburg over the Oresund Bridge.  Back via Hamburg and an overnight in Bremen and then all the way to Manchester in one day.

Manchester to Exeter, in October.  Direct train via Birmingham and Bristol.

And of course several trips to London and around the NW region.

The UK trains and network compare very poorly with the continental ones.  Remarkably little is electrified so on long journeys you end up chugging along in rattly multiple unit diesels which are crowded.  Prices are also high in comparison.

Long distance continental journeys needn’t be costly, although it does help to have flexibility of dates.  Here is my comparison table for the Gothenburg trip.  The flights taken by other conference attendees from Manchester are used as comparison.  Carbon emission estimates are also given.  (NOTE: problems with table formatting- will fix shortly).The carbon emission figures aren’t (particularly) to claim a high moral ground, because carbon is systemic rather than individual. Cost per person (two made the jouney by train) was about £20 cheaper than the flights.  Of course we also had three nights accommodation extra but we’d calculated for three city-breaks in addition to the Gothenburg stay. The costs are a bit misleading because railways have to pay tax on fuel while airlines don’t – to name one hidden subsidy among many. Two late trains made for a dash in London on the way out and Copenhagen on the way back, but that’s all part of the fun … afterwards. Carbon emissions used the German DB calculator, pro-rating for Manchester-London, and using as comparison 2 separate flights via Frankfurt each way – assumptions, assumptions.  The advantage would have been less had our colleagues flown direct to Gothenburg, but still considerably in favour of the train.  Moreover, within Germany you can opt for green energy (a bit like green electricity tariffs here – a bit meaningless maybe since it doesn’t really change the big energy production picture).


Minor niggles are the general lack of adequate luggage space.  Continental trains do a lot better (and have the advantage of bigger size due to the UK’s first mover disadvantage, with its lower “loading gauge” – clearance under bridges etc.).  But on the fancier German ICE’s there were no rack at the end of the coach so big cases had to be manouevered onto the luggage rack.  British trains are totally inadequate for luggage leading to dangerous obstruction of gangways and doors and no doubt great frustration for staff.

We went on a sleeper from Cologne to Vienna.  These are great because you travel while you  sleep – a cost and time efficient way to go.  But Germany is terminating its remaining sleeper services this year.  OBB, Austrian Railways is taking over some of them, but others will not be replaced.  French railways is doing the same with just three left and those threatened.   There have been some good articles about this (e.g. HERE) and campaigns, including a petition to French railways SNCF.


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