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This week, to attend a business meeting in Europe, I took a 6-hour cross-border train ride instead of a 1-hour flight. What difference does it make? Is rail ready for the shift-to-rail?

? According to Deutsche Bahn my long distance ride generated 1g of CO2 per km as opposed to 214g per km for a flight. Sounds good for the planet. By the way the ICAO “carbon emission calculator” estimated this trip by air at 76kg CO2 for about 600km, that’s 127g CO2 per km, close enough to DB’s number…

? The interline shopping worked, the system calculated itineraries across the Swiss railway (SBB) and the German railway (DB). The display of seat maps was a challenge though and the booking of seats (aisle, facing ahead) did not work…

? I was surprised by the rail Minimum Connecting Time (MCT) or lack of. For example, the itinerary proposed a 3-minute change from S6 to ICE892 in Weinheim station, with a change of platform. For regular travelers who know the staircase from platform 1 to platform 2, assuming trains are on-time within 1 minute, it may be a good connection – but not for the rest of us. I’m curious to know how many non-frequent travelers miss this short connection everyday, and if anybody is monitoring it.

? While the inbound trip went like a Swiss clockwork, I was lucky to experience a disruption on the outbound trip, as our train got stuck at the border crossing and I missed my next connection. The controller on board did not speak English, there was no guidance for travelers impacted by the delays, so I looked up for a new itinerary by myself. I picked the one with the 3-minute MCT, which failed, and I missed another connection… Overall the trip took 10 hours instead of the planned 6 hours, but nobody at the train companies would know – they do not seem to have a concept of rail “disruption management”.

✈️ The railway fare in first class was five times cheaper than the flight, which certainly helped making the decision to shift to rail! The wifi on board, the generous legroom, the quiet cabin helped having a productive time on the train ride. It felt like an office on wheels with a nice view of the countryside. No “in-flight” entertainment but overall a pleasant “on-wheels” experience.

? The absence of bag drop, security, checkin and boarding processes made the experience quite straight forward. But the absence of controls has let two trains leave without me, and made me wonder if I was on the right train when the displays were not working.

I have many more observations but overall, I can now imagine business travelers shifting from air to rail for journeys up to 5-6 hours, provided that the issues listed here are fixed. I’m not sure though if I would recommend rail for cross-border journeys to one-time visitors to Europe. Next time I’d like to test a journey to another country for up to 11-hour ride… ?