We’ve just arrived at the Costa Brava in north-Eastern Spain for our family summer break – our first family experience of train travel across Europe.
As we sat on a sandy beach, surrounded by verdant cliffs, the sun not too baking hot, soothed by the crisp sounds of breaking waves, we reflected on our journey from England.
Some people had been surprised to hear we chose to travel by train: “surely it would have been much quicker to fly to Barcelona?” and/or “wasn’t it very expensive, why not drive all the way?”
Environmentally, there is no contest between train travel and plane – and that was certainly a factor in our choice. We took the Eurostar from London to Gare du Nord in Paris, then opted for a 15 minute taxi ride across Paris to Gare du Lyon as we were a party of four and had some rather large cases that we didn’t relish the thought of lugging on the Metro.
When we boarded our train at Gare du Lyon, the sheer scale of the operation of moving hundreds of people from the north to the south of a country as large as France, and into Spain, became apparent. There was not one but two long-distance, high-speed trains (TGVs) coupled together. Not only that, they were both duplex, with two floors. The front train (ours) was actually a Spanish train that would go all the way to Barcelona; the train behind was a French train that would end its journey at Perpignan just before the Spanish border, and be decoupled from ours.
Our discussion on the beach turned to estimating how many planes would be needed to accommodate all the people on these trains. We later found some statistics that helped our estimation: a duplex TGV accommodates 516 people; our train comprised two 8 car trains coupled together, so was carrying 1032 people (it seemed completely packed); a plane that flies from London to Barcelona (eg Airbus A320) carries 180 people; so it would have taken nearly six planes to transport the people on the two TGV trains. Given that long-distance train travel by TGV is around 90% less damaging to the environment than plane travel, we were pleased to have done our bit.
And we were reminded of the other benefits of long-distance rail travel. Passing through the grand stations of Paris, speeding through the countryside at 298km per hour, noticing changing terrain and landscapes, remaining at the same altitude, feeling less corralled and scrutinised, we definitely experienced something of the elegance and romance of train travel that has been much documented. Our journey did take a little longer but we calculated only by an hour or two, factoring in airport check-in times and delays, or traffic jams on the road. We are looking forward very much to our return journey.