The discussion on climate change has in some countries led to the conclusion that there should be less travel by plane. The other conclusion is that people should use trains instead of planes on distances up to approximately 500 kilometres. In reality many flights are used on rather short distances. The railway companies point out that airlines do not pay tax on either aviation kerosene (AVTUR) or VAT. It is true that railway companies are at a disadvantage compared to airlines. But research by the Netherlands’ consumers organisation a year ago found that, in reality prices, from Amsterdam to cities 500 or 600 kilometre away hardly differ between airlines and trains. I can confirm this from my own experience. I travelled recently from London to my hometown Amersfoort. I left Paddington Station Monday at 17.16. I had to pay 49 Euros. A plane at that time of the day would have cost me far more. Another experience: I booked a train ticket from Amersfoort to Magdeburg in Germany for 29 Euro. A trip by car would have cost me much more.
One wonders why people still use planes for these distances. One reason is the booking process. It is no problem at all to book a plane ticket from Amsterdam to a small airport in Latin America involving changes of planes and companies. But you have to be a specialist to book a cheap ticket travelling cross border by train. Experience has taught me to start planning a trip by consulting the timetables on the Deutsche Bahn website. After that I check the websites of NS, SNCB, SNCF, DB or Trainline to find the best deal. I happen to know that in Belgium senior citizens pay only 6 (!) Euros for a return ticket inside Belgium. I know that it is in general cheap to buy tickets from the border station Bad Bentheim when travelling to Germany or beyond. People who do not know these things will pay a lot more and have become frustrated in the booking process.
When a flight is cancelled airlines do their utmost best to book the passengers on another flight even if the flight belongs to another carrier. If a Beneluxtrain between Brussels and Amsterdam is cancelled, which happens quite often, passengers are refused on the Thalys. The Beneluxtrain is owned jointly by NS and SNCB. Thalys belongs to SNCF and SNCB.
Air passengers are well protected by European passengers’ rules and can get compensation for delays. For train passengers the situation is worse. It recently took four and a half hours to go from Brussels to Utrecht, instead of the normal two and a half. I got 9 Euros compensation. A friend of mine who was confronted with two broken-down Beneluxtrains could only claim 5 Euros! NS simply sticks to the rules.
If railway companies took the interests of passengers to heart instead of tying themselves down with their own rules, passengers would flow onto international trains.