Responsible train holidays

There isn’t too much to say about responsible train holidays because the chances are that if you are choosing to take the train while on holiday, you are already ticking an ‘alternative traveller’ box. You understand the joys of slow travel, the chance to engage with local people on your travels, and to escape the cocoon of cars and coaches. However, you are still in the cool minority, with planes and cars still upstaging the train when it comes to getting around on holiday. The rail choice is not, as many might assume however, always because of a responsibility to reduce carbon emissions when travelling. Because most railway holidays involve a carbon heavy plane journey to start their journey. However, by taking the train, carbon aware travellers are certainly easing congestion and car emissions.

Emissions & the environment

Tourism, that industry that always has an appetite for growth, presently accounts for 8 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, with transportation a more than significant contributor. Of this, air travel and car travel are very real carbon culprits*. Car usage doesn’t get quite the same attention as plane usage, however, road users in 2015 accounted for 72.6 per cent of transport-related CO2 emissions worldwide, aviation 10.9 per cent and rail 4.2 per cent**. Looking at the big global picture of all emissions, not just transport, flying is currently only 2 per cent of world CO2 emissions, but with radiating forces (kerosene being burnt at altitude etc) and the fact that greenhouse gases also include NOX gases, water and soot, the estimate is that aviation contributes to a significantly higher percentage of global greenhouse gases***.

Or, take a simple case study such as going from London to Paris on a return trip. Taking the plane emits, on average, 122.1 kg of CO2 per passenger. The same trip by train is 15.0 kg of CO2. It is also worth noting that taking the car, however, results in 48.4 CO2 being emitted per passenger. If you pack the car full of passengers, however, the figures lower significantly. ****

With rail holidays, the fact is that most travellers still start or end their journey by plane, and then choosing to traverse their chosen destination by rail. This certainly is great news in terms of keeping polluting cars off the roads, but let’s not kid ourselves that taking the train on holiday is always the green stairway to heaven. It also depends on the fuel being used by the trains in question, with an electric train emitting between 20 per cent and 35 per cent less carbon per passenger mile than a diesel train, for example.

What makes rail travel a responsible and also a truly relaxing way to travel, is the way in which it immediately connects you with not only the place, but the people. You are engaging with commuters and families on board the train and not hiding behind the wheel of a car, or indeed a gated resort. Rail holidays are a glorious antithesis of cruise holidays, in fact. Less polluting, they use local food suppliers, your stops are for much longer than just a morning, you stay in locally owned accommodation when you are not sleeping on board the train, and you actually get to see the landscapes. Appreciate its contours, culture and communities. In other words, you actually get that sense of arriving in a place, because you have seen the landscape that preceded it. And, even better, if you read up on the history of the rail route as well, you can gain a good understanding of the region’s history too. And from the minute you step off the train, if you travel with a responsible tourism provider, your money also stays in the community you are visiting, as you eat in local restaurants, drink in local pubs and shop in local boutiques.
*Independent article on tourism, transport, climate change and carbon emissions
** Railway Handbook 2017: Energy Consumption and CO2 Emissions; published by the International Energy Agency and International Union of Railways
*** World Energy Council
**** Source: This figure is based on 1.5 passengers travelling in a car, which is the European average for a car doing this journey.

People & culture

The flying culture still dominates tourism in most countries, with train travellers often treated like second class citizens of the world. Airports have bookshops, toyshops, clothes shops, you name it shops. You are lucky to get an ATM at some train stations, never mind a hot cup of coffee. And let’s not even go there on the booking systems that you can’t actually use more than three months in advance, and which seem to have been designed just to defeat us, in most cases. Which is why using a tour operator to coordinate your rail holiday is still the best option. They know when to book, how to book, if there will be food on board, if you need a sleeping cabin, what time you arrive, and if there will be someone there to meet you. They have created their own glorious infrastructure, which is why we think they are gods of train travel, not geeks.

On a more serious level, however, governments do need to connect all forms of transport with tourism. Ensure that travellers have more than ten minutes to catch a ferry after they step off a Scottish train, for example. Or build the bike hire network across stations, so that tourists can enjoy both the rails and bike trails while they are at it. Hear ye, or hear ye. Connectivity is the new cool.

What you can do
By taking the train on holiday you are already doing a lot to be responsible. However, railway stations have always been hubs for those in need and, in particular, vulnerable children. So we recommend supporting this wonderful charity, aptly called Railway Children. And share news of it on your social media networks too. This international charity works in the UK, India and East Africa raising money to support children living at risk on the streets, and to carry out research that provides an invaluable tool that can create change at government level. So that railway children aren’t ignored for much longer. If you are keen to support the idea of responsible train holidays, there are many ways in which you can get involved with this charity, as detailed on their website.
Terina Keene, Chief Executive at the charity Railway Children:
"Tourists should never give money to child beggars they meet abroad. Organised begging is one of the most visible forms of human trafficking, especially around railway stations in countries like India, and it's largely financed and enabled by good-hearted people who just want to help.
But there are better ways to give. Established non-governmental organisations can ensure that charitable donations go to effective, sustainable projects, and they know how to implement positive change in minimally disruptive ways."
Robert Kidd, Director of our leading railway holidays in Scotland supplier, McKinlay Kidd:
“One of the reasons I really like the train is that you are not in your own cocoon of a car, and so you do get to meet the local people. It is a much more social thing and you meet all sorts of characters on a train, sometimes even ones you might not necessarily want to spend time with! Of course, our guests love the views, the skies, Ben Nevis and all those sorts of things, but more than most, like all good travel, they remember meeting the people”.
Written by Catherine Mack
Photo credits: [Page banner: Belur Ashok] [Emissions & the environment: Andrew] [People on the train: iMorpheus] [Children on the railway: The Railway Children]