Greenpeace Study Reveals Untapped Potential for Direct Train Connections in Europe

Existing tracks could more than triple direct rail services between major cities, reducing reliance on air travel.

A new study conducted by Greenpeace Central and Eastern Europe has unveiled a significant opportunity to expand direct train connections between major European cities, potentially reducing the continent’s reliance on air travel and its associated environmental impacts. The analysis, which examined 990 routes connecting 45 major cities, found that direct train connections could be more than tripled using existing tracks.

Currently, just 114 routes (12%) offer direct train connections, while an additional 305 routes (31%) could support direct services but remain unserved. Implementing direct daytime services or night trains on these unserved routes could substantially enhance rail connectivity across Europe.

The research also highlighted a stark disparity between direct flight and train connections, with 69% of the analysed routes offering direct flights. This imbalance suggests that Europe’s transport infrastructure still favours air travel over more environmentally friendly rail options.

Herwig Schuster, a transport campaigner for Greenpeace Central and Eastern Europe, criticised the historical bias towards air travel, stating, “Europe has long prioritized climate-damaging air travel over trains and rail infrastructure. It’s time for European governments and the EU to address this imbalance by improving train connectivity and comfort and ending the unfair advantages enjoyed by the airline industry.”

The study revealed that no city has fully capitalised on its potential for direct train services. Even Vienna, the city with the most direct train connections (17), has room for improvement, with the potential for 12 more direct train connections.

The worst-connected cities include Athens, Lisbon, Pristina, Sarajevo, Skopje, and Tallinn, none of which have direct train connections to any other major European cities in the analysis.

Despite political stagnation and a reduction in the number of cross-border night trains over the years, Greenpeace is urging the EU and national governments to invest in infrastructure, improve cooperation between railway companies, and mandate direct trains where they are not yet commercially viable.

The organisation believes that by exploiting the untapped potential of existing tracks, Europe can significantly boost direct rail connections, offering citizens cleaner, more efficient, and affordable public transport options.