A continent-wide rail renaissance can play a vital part in the battle to meet net zero climate targets
The avant garde German band Kraftwerk understood perfectly the special pleasures of cross-border train travel. The spare lyrics to their 1977 classic Trans-Europe Express celebrated the frissons that come with being stylishly on the move: “Rendezvous on Champs-Élysées / Leave Paris in the morning with T-E-E / In Vienna we sit in a late-night cafe / Straight connection T-E-E.”
Cool, sleek and, in its day, ineffably modern, the Trans Europe Express stopped running in 1995. Scores of other international rail links have gone the same way, priced out of the market by low-cost air travel. There is no longer, for example, a direct train route between Paris and Berlin. To travel the 600km between Madrid and Lisbon requires three changes and can take 11 hours. In Britain, the possibilities provided by the Channel tunnel have been underexplored for the same reason: rock-bottom short-haul air fares have turned continental rail travel into an eccentric and expensive pleasure for romantics with deep pockets.