Train In Vain

      May 7th, 2008

Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy on a train in the movie Before SunriseI have to travel from Berlin to Frankfurt and back on Wednesday. I have to arrive at around 10 am and it doesn’t matter so much when I get back; as long as I get back in one piece. Quickly scanning around online I see that I can fly from Berlin to Frankfurt with Ryanair for 15 euros. They add around 25 euros in taxes each way. The flight only takes an hour and 15 minutes. Unfortunately, Ryan Air flies to Frankfurt-Hahn which is over an hour away by bus from the city center. The bus ride is 16 euros round trip. So we’re talking around 100 euros total.

Another option is renting a car. I could rent a little Smart car for about 50 euros, but I doubt I would survive traveling on the Autobahn in one of those things. A car with a bit more oomph goes for about 80 euros per day. Gas is ridiculously expensive here, and I would probably have to add another 100 euros in gas costs for the trip. So there we’ve got around 180 euros, a lot of flexibility, but also a grand total of 10 hours of driving in one day.

But hey, you’re thinking, you’re in Europe, you’ve got to train it. We’ve all seen Before Sunrise, Europe is all about plowing through the countryside in a hall of steel, maybe meeting Julie Delpy on the way. In fact, I really enjoy riding trains. Aside from cycling, it’s probably the most environmentally sound way of traveling. You can try to get some work done or read a book. You can also just stare out the window as the outside whizzes by. Oh, and there’s also the fun fact that from within a train you have no way of scientifically proving in which direction you’re moving.

It’s a pity that riding a train in Germany almost always involves the Deutsche Bahn. Much like the Deutsche Telekom they have a massive Goliath complex and are stuck in an old-fashioned starched straightjacket. Regardless, I summoned up the necessary courage and headed over to their website. After Firefox blocked two popup windows, I started looking around. They claim to offer tickets for 29 euros, but they’re never available. As if to rub it in your face, they display the cheapest price, with an X next to it, saying not available. Way to go. They have a plethora of deals and discounts — Fan BahnCard 25, BahnCard 25, BahnCard 50, BahnCard 100, Mobility BahnCard 100, Sparpreis 25, Sparpreis 50 — but these seem to only apply to train junkies. I was also assailed by a monsoon of acronyms — ICE, CNL, EN, RE. A former colleague of mine who had worked for the Deutsche Bahn told me that sometimes the cheapest tickets are only available through a phone number which costs 1.80 euro per minute. Basically, If you want to give yourself a headache go to the Deutsche Bahn website and wade through their self-made sea of confusion.

After popping a few Bayer® Aspirin, I found a round trip ticket with an ICE (Intercontinental Express) for 138 euros, with seat reservations (?!) 144 euros. A bit over 4 hours each way. All in all, acceptable.

It’s obvious that a train ride is going to take longer than flying, but what kind of incentive is that when flying costs 30% less? And what about the environmental ramifications? The Guardian newspaper reported that flying from London to Edinburgh and back produces 8 times more CO2 emmissions (per person) than taking the train. The distance from London to Edinburgh is a bit more than from Berlin to Frankfurt, but the point holds true: These prices are obviously sending very wrong signals. With lots of attention being given to climate change and global warming, perhaps people have a self-inflicted guilt tax, which makes those cheap flights a bit more expensive. Or maybe we should start smacking warning signs on flight tickets, much like the “You will die” signs we see on cigarettes. “This cheap flight is destroying our environment.”

Now I just need to see about finding that ship to take me from Europe to California.

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Filed under: Environment, Travel by A.B.

2 Responses to “Train In Vain”

  1. I came across your blog on Technorati. Nice site layout. I will stop by and read more soon.

    Mike Harmon

  2. […] Principles for Sale wrote an interesting post today on Train In VainHere’s a quick excerptWith lots of attention being given to climate change and global warming, perhaps people have a self-inflicted guilt tax, which makes those cheap flights a bit more e xpensive…. […]

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