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Opinion – why we should invest in travel by train

If you’re not choosy about the time of day, you can often catch a one hour flight from, say, Edinburgh to London for around £20. In comparison, the same journey via train will normally take around 6 hours, and cost £60 or more. We need to change how we fund our trains.

It’s no surprise then that cheap, fast flights have become incredibly popular. But why the huge price gap?

Chances are, it’s not likely to last. Most airlines are running on a model where first class and business travelers bring in the bread. Those cheap economy flights often don’t even make them a profit!

As business class travelers dwindle, airlines like British Airways are likely going to need to start shifting costs to economy passengers. I think it’s time we push for trains to take their place as the budget travel gods.

Trains are fast, efficient, eco-friendly, and comfortable. As a bonus, you’re likely to see beautiful landscapes. And the kicker is, they don’t have to be as expensive as they are – the culprit looks to be privatization.

In Britain for example, nationwide prices rose and efficiency dropped after the railways were privatized.

We Own It, a UK activist group, are arguing that it’s time to take the trains back (sign their petition here).

Without fragmented ownership, more efficient, cheaper trains become possible. Making railways public and centrally owned also means we can improve services (the best railway in Europe, Switzerland’s, is publicly owned).

For example, instead of rival companies charging each other to use rail lines, that money can be invested into improving tracks. Public ownership could also mean subsidized ticket prices, based on the needs of passengers and not the chances of maximum profit.

Take notes from Germany; this summer, through a government aid package, they made rail travel only 9 euro a month.

The three month scheme reduced inflation and prevented around 1.8 million tons of CO2 from entering the atmosphere. Now that the scheme is over, activists are taking matters into their own hands. The 9 Euro Fund charges a small membership fee, and its members simply don’t buy a ticket before getting on a train.

If they are caught and fined, the group covers the cost (similar groups, like yo no pago and have also sprung up in Spain and Sweden).

With the current cost of living crisis, it’s becoming clearer every day that we need affordable, sustainable public transport.

Groups like the 9 Euro Fund are an effective form of protest – they send a clear signal that we’ll be taking matters into our own hands.

We can also push our local representatives to invest in train lines, switch out car and plane journeys with rail when possible, and support our striking train workers. Here’s to a future with better, cheaper, beautiful trains.