One of my earliest posts back in October 2019 was about flight shame. I wrote it in the international departures terminal of Frankfurt Airport waiting for a flight to the United States. My return flight a week later was my last time on a plane.

As data from Eurocontrol shows, in 2020 the COVID-19 pandemic caused a 57% drop in European C02 airplane emissions. This dramatic drop has raised awareness of aviation emissions and increased pressure to reduce air travel post-pandemic. A major marketing initiative by European train operators is encouraging air passengers to switch to rail-based transport and calls for a short-haul flight ban are growing.

Interestingly, however, Eurocontrol notes that short haul flights are not really the problem. Over half of European C02 aviation emissions come from just 6 % of flights, the long-haul ones. Additionally, the European train infrastructure is in dire need of an upgrade and far too few high-speed routes exist. While a 14-hour trip by night train from Vienna to Brussels might sound romantic, I doubt many will opt against a flight that takes less than two hours.

As a recent article in the Die Presse noted, 10,000 kilometers of track are planned for a high-speed European train infrastructure. This will not only cost about 250 billion euros and require about 30,000 hectares of land. It will also take an estimated 18 to 26 years to complete. By the time the routes can be used, the first zero-emission airplanes may well be in the air.

What do you think? Where should Europe invest in the transportation sector? In improving the train infrastructure or in research to develop zero-emission airplanes?

Main image by Joshua Woroniecki from Pixabay.

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