Trains instead of planes: Could domestic flights in Germany really become 'obsolete'?

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Trains instead of planes: Could domestic flights in Germany really become 'obsolete'?
An ICE high speed train travelling through Thuringia, eastern Germany. Photo: DPA

The Green party has proposed to make rail travel in Germany so attractive over the coming decades that passengers turn their back on domestic flights.


More trains, reliable timetables and cheaper tickets: this is the Green answer to growing air traffic in Germany.

"By 2035 we want to make domestic flights obsolete as far as possible," said the Green parliamentary group in a paper seen by the Süddeutsche Zeitung.

According to the environmentally friendly party, which is riding high in the polls after a stunning result in the European elections, three billion euros should be injected into the country’s railway network annually in order to expand and speed up the rail system. 

The goal must be to reduce the travel time between as many places as possible in Germany and neighbouring countries to "a maximum of four hours", the Greens said. The authors singled out the routes from Cologne and Düsseldorf to Berlin, Hamburg or Munich as well as the connection between Frankfurt and Berlin. 

In many places, bottlenecks would have to be eliminated quickly. In addition, more trains are needed in the morning and evening rush hours to make train travel more attractive to commuters as well.

However, this also requires extremely punctual trains and a high speed broadband connection onboard.

The radical proposal could prove enticing to voters in Germany, many of whom may have already given their vote to the Greens in the European parliamentary elections in May or state elections.

READ ALSO: 'Surfing the zeitgeist': How the Greens won over Germany

More tax on flying, less on train travelling

According to the Federal Statistical Office, 23.5 million domestic passengers travelled by plane in Germany last year. In 2017 the figure was 23.7 million, a drop of 0.8 per cent.

A plane flying near Frankfurt during a sunset. Photo: DPA

The paper also provides for a "step-by-step introduction of the Kerosene tax for domestic flights". This should gradually align with the tax rate on petrol which currently stands at 65 cents per litre, the party argues.

Yet for trains, the VAT should be reduced from 19 to seven percent. The Greens also want to lower route prices and the electricity tax.

Meanwhile, the party is also thinking about how to improve trains to make people think twice about taking longer or international flights. 

They proposed a "European night train network" that they hope would attract more passengers to the railways.

"It is unacceptable that the airplane, as the most climate-damaging mode of transport, is still being subsidized with billions, while the environmentally friendly railway is chronically underfinanced," said Daniela Wagner, one of the authors of the paper.

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about exploring Germany by train

Prices must also reflect the ecological truth in air transport, they said. "At the same time, the railways must be strengthened by building and expanding new routes and by making them reliable, punctual and affordable,” the paper said.

Protecting the environment

Climate change is high on the agenda across the world as anti-climate change activists call for action and pile pressure on countries to meet CO2 targets. Fridays for Future demonstrations, led by young Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, continue to take place across Germany.

The topic also played a huge role in the recent European parliamentary elections which saw the Greens surge to second place in Germany, behind Angela Merkel's party, the centre-right CDU which suffered heavy losses.



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