The tourism plan of EU could damage rail travel

Published on : Saturday, May 16, 2020

At present, people all over the globe are fighting with the same question: will it be out of harm’s way to take a vacation this summer?

The European Commission on yesterday has disclosed a tourism strategy planned to enthuse the interested tourists to go on holidays, getting frightened that a tourist-free summer can easily damage a sector that represents 10% of the economic output of Europe. However, many people are yet to shed their anxiousness and take a plane for such a vacation. Rather, they would feel much safer to take a train and enjoy their destination.

“In a post-COVID reality, trains give you greater leeway in terms of social distancing – choosing off-peak trains, the ability to go and stand in a less crowded carriage if yours is a little busy,” says Eran Edry, a writer living in London. “On planes, you’re as good as shackled to your seat.”

However, rail operators explain that the tourism strategy declared yesterday not only gives confidence to this modal shift from air to rail, it appears to shut down the possibility. As the Commission has complied with the request of the aviation lobby not to recommend social distancing on planes, the strategy however has advised that national governments require distancing on trains.

This signifies that that plane wouldn’t fly with empty seats between passengers, but trains would.

To quote Libor Lochman, executive director of the Confederation of European Railways, “What they’re proposing for trains is simply not feasible. Requiring social distancing on board a train would mean you have to lower capacity by 40-50%. My immediate question would be who’s going to pay for that? Either authorities compensate the losses or you have to raise the ticket price, and people will move from trains to cars.”

Although at yesterday’s press conference held by EU Transport Commission Adina Valean shows that the EU executive had excluded recommending social distancing on planes, a spokesperson of the Commission said today they are still on a discussion with the European Centres for Disease Control and the International Air Transport Association and would do such recommendations later.

Now, for trains, the strategy recommends that social distancing obligations is a must and their frequency and capacity should be increased. Also, it recommends that national governments should accept only online reservations done in advance – even for regional trains. This method would help the trains to make sure seats are left free for distancing. It also says that smaller train stations in which passenger distance can’t be ensured should be closed down.

“When you read it line by line you come to the conclusion that someone thinks trains operate for free,” says Lochman.

“Under normal conditions the distancing between passengers on a train is much wider than on a plane,” he says.

Also, passengers have freedom to move further away or go for a less crowded train. However trains to maintain empty seats and restrict ridership wouldn’t be economically viable.

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