German trains are 51 percent more expensive than flights, study reveals

German trains are 51 percent more expensive than flights, study reveals

A new European-wide study by Greenpeace has found that on average, travelling by train is twice as expensive as flying. The study reveals how government subsidies and aggressive pricing tactics pressure travellers to fly despite the aviation industry being the fastest-growing source of transport-related greenhouse gas emissions in the EU.

Greenpeace survey reveals how travellers are encouraged to fly

In its own imagination, Europe is a continent crisscrossed with romantic train journeys between ancient cities and beautiful beaches. In reality, it is getting a bus to the airport at 3:15am for a Ryanair flight between bordering countries because it was the cheapest option.

In the not-too-distant past, a summer train trip between Munich and Florence was a big journey, but an affordable one made by students, workers and families alike. But with airlines benefitting from grand subsidies and promoting aggressive pricing strategies, travelling by train has become a mode of transport only afforded to those who can, well, afford it, and have the luxury of time to dedicate more hours to travelling.

The extent of this transportation switch-up has been revealed by Greenpeace’s latest report on the disparity between the cost of flying - which according to data from the European Environment Agency emits an average of 4.84 times more greenhouse gas emissions than trains - and the cost of travelling by train. 

For the report, Greenpeace analysed 112 routes across Europe and compared the cost of flying versus travelling by train between variations of two European locations. Of all the routes considered, in 79 cases it proved cheaper to fly than to go by train. Of the 23 that were cheaper, around 12 were considered to have low-quality services, such as bad or slow connections.

German trains are 51 percent more expensive than flights, study reveals

Internationally and within Europe, there are many positive associations with the German train system, which from the outside is perceived as punctual, accessible, far-reaching and affordable. Within Germany, this sentiment is largely dismissed, with regular and extreme delays, poorly organised and underfunded construction developments and overcrowded services proving otherwise.

Recent developments such as the temporary 9-euro ticket policy and the current 49-euro ticket have made German trains more affordable. But according to Greenpeace travelling by train within, to and from Germany is still 51 percent more expensive than flying.

On some routes, for example between Hamburg and Munich, Stuttgart and Berlin or on any route between Germany and Switzerland, taking the train was always cheaper. But if travellers want to cross the border to Spain, Italy, the UK, France or the Nordic countries, taking the plane is always or almost always cheaper. In the most extreme case, travelling by plane between Cologne and Manchester is five times cheaper than going by train.

The reason for this discrepancy between the cost of domestic travel versus travel across European borders is that Germany is one of the only countries to apply higher tax for domestic flights than for trains (19 percent versus 7 percent). 

While the German government and Deutsche Bahn have recently announced plans to develop services, such as renovating every third station in the country and launching new international services, critics argue that the international company needs billions of euros more if the country is to even come close to its target of climate neutrality by 2045, let alone with the stipulations of the Paris Agreement.

Greenpeace demands fair pricing for trains

Greenpeace points out that only 1 percent of the global population is responsible for creating more than half of global climate emissions. Rather than spending time developing technology that makes eco-friendly flying possible, the organisation concludes that more money should be invested in rail transport and fewer subsidies should be handed out to budget airlines. 

These pricing strategies “come at a high cost to the planet and its inhabitants, including their employees, airport neighbours, customers, people affected by extreme weather events or biodiversity in general,” Greenpeace wrote in its conclusion. 

With a return to reasonably-priced train transportation, travellers could afford to use environmentally-friendly travel options again. The organisation concluded that to do this, train tickets for journeys in the distant future should be better available, timetables and prices for specific trips should be uniform, and an EU-wide integrated payment system to book tickets should be introduced.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, “Massive investments [are needed] to upgrade and modernise the rail infrastructure, increase the capacity of the rail networks, and make rail faster especially in Central and Eastern European countries."

Thumb image credit: Longfin Media /

Olivia Logan


Olivia Logan



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