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Travel Responsibly and Sustainably by Rail

9 July 2021

July 2021: Many of us are growing increasingly aware of our impact on the planet, especially when it comes to holidays. So, it's no surprise that tourists are considering their options for more responsible and sustainable travel. For fans of rail, there's reason to celebrate as this increasingly popular mode of transport is coming out as the top choice for sustainable holidays.

By choosing to journey by rail over planes or cars, passengers are often making a significant step towards more sustainable travel. It's just one more reason to love rail as not only are you reducing your carbon footprint, it's also a much more relaxed and comfortable experience. Guests can sit back and enjoy the ever-changing views as you roll right into the heart of your destination.

Proud to be working with sustainability champions

Eurostar, our travel partner for no-fly rail tours in Europe, are pioneers in sustainability within the rail travel industry. As the first carbon neutral train operator, Eurostar's initiatives have been leading the way towards greener holidays since 2007. A study commissioned by the company found that a single Eurostar journey from London to Paris reduced carbon emissions by up to 92% per passenger versus the equivalent short-haul flight.

Furthermore, DEFRA found that the emissions per passenger per km travelled were lowest for the Eurostar at 6g compared to the highest, a domestic flight, at 133g. As if anyone needed another reason to avoid security queues and limited leg space, this significant reduction in pollutants must surely seal the deal!

Many of Great Rail Journey's European tours begin on the Eurostar, which is according to their calculations enables you to cut your carbon emission by up to 90% versus flying the same route. For eco-conscious travellers the Traditional Glacier Express tour or Keukenhof Tulips Canals and Amsterdam have the added bonus of stays in hotels that are proud of their green credentials and journey on rail or river that are working hard to reduce their impact. Each tour, offers adventurers the opportunity to experience stunning natural landscapes and vibrant cultures with the peace of mind that they are travelling responsibly and sustainably across each country.

Additionally, on the Castles and Wildlife of Scotland tour guests will embark on a journey onboard the Caledonain Sleeper train, another of our travel partners making strides towards more sustainable travel. Not only is the sleeper train a more sustainable choice than flying, with lower CO2 emissions and a reduction in air and road travel, but it also purposefully boosts the local economy with small business owners providing everything from food and drink to staff uniforms, which has so far resulted in more than 3.5 million pounds increased income for the Scottish business community. This demonstrates that rail travel isn't just environmentally friendly but also beneficial for local economies and communities.

Climate Change and Carbon Emissions

In recognition of the vast benefits of rail travel, 2021 marks the European Year of Rail. The European Commission initiative aims to highlight the benefits of rail as "a sustainable, smart and safe means of transport" and aims to raise awareness of the importance of increased travel by rail in achieving the EU Green Deal goal of climate neutrality by 2050.

The Transport and Environment Report 2020 examined the various forms of travel to establish which is best to achieve the goals of the European Green Deal. The Transport and Environment Report 2020 found that for passenger transport, a shift from air to rail travel can play a key role.

Air travel is now considered one of the largest growing contributors to climate change and, as an industry, is said to contribute between 4 to 9% of the overall impact of humans on climate change. Choosing a no-fly holiday can, therefore, be a fantastic way to help reduce the impact of travel on the environment.

The Trainline found that rail offers passengers a greener alternative to flying or driving as it generates 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.

Additionally, the European Commission found that rail is fundamental in making the move towards more responsible and sustainable travel, particularly in shifting away from short-haul flights.

Transport accounted for a quarter of the EU's greenhouse gas emissions in 2018. Within this, road transport contributed by 72%, marine and aviation by 14% and 13% respectively, and rail contributed 0.4%. Concluding its report, the European Environment Agency said: "Rail travel is the best and most sensible mode of transport, apart from walking or cycling."

However, it isn't always possible to avoid flying, especially for those keen to explore further afield. This isn't necessarily bad news though as long-haul flights are not as damaging to the environment as short-haul per km. Once you've reached your destination however, there are certain rail routes - for example across Asia - that were found to be faster, cheaper and more convenient than flying, according to a recent report in Railway Technology.

This means many of the arguments for flying as the quickest mode of transport, are in fact not necessarily true and that choosing rail, even further afield, still plays a meaningful part in travelling more responsibly. The route from Beijing to Shanghai was found to be only 30 minutes longer, which - when you take check-in and security into consideration - is ultimately more convenient and just as timely.

Plus, you don't miss all the spectacular sights in between! Journeying across China on our Discover China tour, you'll experience a dizzy mix of ancient culture, tumultuous history, stunning natural beauty, and dynamic urban landscapes, China is a feast for the senses. Magnificent Beijing, the Terracotta Warriors, captivating pandas, and a cruise through the Three Gorges all offer an unforgettable experience. So why go for a flight when the real adventure is by rail? 

For more information on how to travel more sustainably visit our sustainability page here. Or for further inspiration on Great Rail Journeys' most sustainable tours, read our Editor's Picks here