In the pursuit of finding new, environmentally friendly ways to travel, night trains are being explored across the United States and Europe.
Instead of short-haul flights on high-pollution airplanes, traveling overnight by rail is seen as an affordable, comfortable, and planet-friendly alternative.
Amtrak in the U.S. is exploring the market, and it has begun replacing over 800 of its Superliner and Amfleet cars on 14 overnight routes, according to CNN.
Continental Europe is already running night trains. Austrian Federal Railways (ÖBB) has expanded its “Nightjet” network in recent years, with a new route between Vienna and Hamburg promising sleeper cabins and pods for single travelers. Meanwhile, Sweden and Czechia also have routes that run in the dark.
According to CNN, France and Italy are among the countries exploring night routes to allow passengers to sleep in one location and wake up somewhere completely different.
The night train revolution has not had completely clear tracks, with finding suitable carriages and timings considered among the biggest barriers to expansion.
But early success stories and the increasing “flygskam” movement — a Swedish term meaning “flight shame,” as CNN noted — could see the method of transport being a more common option for travelers concerned about pollution.
“In my view ÖBB has got it right,” rail travel expert Mark Smith told CNN.
For example, domestic flights are the biggest polluters in travel in the United Kingdom. Our World in Data has reported, based on data from the U.K. government’s Department for Energy Security and Net Zero, that 246 grams of planet-warming carbon dioxide (CO2) is produced per kilometer (about 0.87 pounds per mile).
National Rail, by comparison, produced just 35 grams per kilometer (about 0.12 pounds per mile), while the Eurostar route from London to Paris produced just four grams of CO2 per kilometer (about 0.014 pounds per mile).
Meanwhile, an International Air Transport Association study in 2019, as summarized by the BBC, found that aviation produces 2% of the world’s global carbon pollution.
Trains can also be more carbon efficient if they run on electric power rather than dirty fuel, so there are further possibilities for an even greater reduction in possible planet-warming gases while traveling significant distances.
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