Rail rules the roost when it comes to sustainable travel. Trains contribute just 1.8% of the greenhouse-gas emissions relating to domestic travel, a miniscule percentage compared with the more than 90% generated by cars, lorries and other road vehicles. As a key mode of public transport, rail has a vital role to play in making travel more accessible and equitable. It’s essential to national economies too, helping companies to move their goods cheaply and efficiently while getting millions of people to their workplaces each day.Rail travel is also coming into its own on an international scale.

Many people’s first experience of intercontinental rail travel in Europe is as a student, purchasing an InterRail pass (European customers) or a Eurail pass (non-European customers). These rail passes offer the perfect means for free-flowing, exploratory travel. Travellers can decide on a destination based on the rail map and schedule, and if one train is missed, there is always another. Exploring interesting locations along the way is a case of just hoping off to explore and hopping back on to continue the journey. Travellers meet people from all over the world on the train, which are a cost-effective option for students.

With sustainability of ever-increasing importance, many of the green-minded students who formerly purchased InterRail or Eurail passes are returning to the service as more mature adults. One such person is Laurie Gavitt-Smith. Recently, Gavitt-Smith spent nearly one month visiting nine European countries for business. The trip combined air and train travel based on availability and schedules. She preferred the train travel over flights to avoid the hassles of modern travel. Getting the train allowed her to arrive 10 minutes prior to departure, avoid invasive security checks, dodge heavy and multiple baggage fees, work comfortably with free Wi-Fi and count on reliable schedules even in bad weather.

 

With sustainability of ever-increasing importance, many of the green-minded students who formerly purchased InterRail or Eurail passes are returning to the service as more mature adults.

 

Gavitt-Smith says that being able to see the countryside along the way made her relax during a busy schedule. She was also able to see parts of a country she would not have otherwise visited. Arriving in the city centre instead of miles outside enabled her to walk to hotels, exploring the towns and saving on cab fare. Then, when she had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take a month-long European holiday with her husband and two sons, she didn’t even consider flying, other than to reach their base destination. The family planned its 2013 summer adventure based on the rail map and time between each location.

For the trip, Gavitt-Smith calculated individual rates versus a Global Eurail pass and found the Global pass to be less expensive than individual purchases for the six countries they planned to visit. The route was easy to research and purchase online. She was impressed by the number of fast trains available but noted that they require a reservation, especially during busy travel months like July and August. The fees added to the overall cost, but upgrading to first class was nominal and made travel more comfortable as the family was guaranteed seats together. Eurail also offered a free gondola ride in Venice, a saving of nearly $100.

Gavitt-Smith says that she will never forget the ride from Zurich to Innsbruck, Austria. Travelling over, through and around the Alps was breath-taking. At one point, she and her family emerged from a tunnel to see a flowing river, snow-capped mountains in the distance, and rolling valleys filled with cottages decorated with flowering window boxes. Everyone in the cabin, regardless of nationality and language, gasped a collective WOW!

As when she was a student traveller, Gavitt-Smith met many people from around the world on the train: business, student, tourist and family travellers. Conviviality on trains spreads more naturally than on a plane, where one cannot view and relish in the fields of sunflowers from Tuscany to Rome. Train travel is also so much easier with children. Families can arrive close to departure time, there’s no need to go through long and stressful security lines, and food and drink can be brought onto the train. Travellers can correspond with family and friends via free Wi-Fi and did not need to worry about how much luggage they had.

So there you have it. Rail travel is a sustainable, smart and stress-free way to travel. With the cost of flying increasing and carbon guilt setting in, travel is developing parallels with the slow-food movement. There is a growing appreciation of slow travel, with journeys made by train (also boat and bike) gaining in popularity. People want to a greater appreciation of the journey itself rather than the restless striving for the next destination.

The Eurail app is  for both Android and Apple phones. It is an offline app, which is a major advantage for international customers, as there are no roaming costs involved. The app allows users to find train stations and near their current position, see departure and arrival boards available for any station, save most frequent searches as favourites, find train stations using augmented reality, view benefits for Eurail and InterRail pass holders, save city maps of major European cities, and see facts for all participating countries. The app is available for free and has received very positive feedback and around 110,000 downloads.