It takes around two hours to take a train from Paris to the city of Lyon. That train ride has a far smaller carbon footprint than flying between the cities—and now the French government plans to ban the flights, along with other short routes that take 2.5 hours or less by train, to shrink the country’s transportation emissions.
Another proposal would have ditched all flights shorter than four hours than could have been replaced by train rides, but politicians compromised after pressure from airlines. A French consumer association, UFC-Que Choisir, argues that including the longer flights would have the most impact on emissions; the organization says that the plane trips emit an average of 77 times more CO2 per passenger than taking the train on the same routes. It’s also less expensive to take the train than flying, and depending on the time that it takes to get to the airport and wait in line, could conceivably be more convenient.
Other countries are working on similar policies, including the Netherlands, which has an extensive network of trains and has been attempting a ban on short flights since 2013. (In 2019, the Dutch government tried to ban short flights between Amsterdam and nearby Brussels, Belgium, but ran into challenges because the flights crossed international borders.) In Austria, the government introduced a new fee on short flights and banned flight connections that could be replaced with a train journey of three hours or less. After Austrian Airlines got a COVID bailout last year that asked it to cut its carbon footprint, the company replaced a flight route between Vienna and Salzburg with more train service. Some organizations, like the BBC, also ask employees to take the train instead of short flights for business travel.
In the U.S., where it isn’t as easy to jump on a train to quickly get to the next city, it may be harder to make the switch from short flights. But the Biden administration is pushing to invest in rail. And one other option may soon be coming: Even though electric planes aren’t yet feasible for long journeys, small electric planes could make short trips.