France takes a small step in the right direction

This isn’t world-changing, but it’s a first (to me, at least), and an encouraging thing to see. France has banned short-distance air travel along routes for which there exists a train ride of two and a half hours or less. This is, in case it needs to be said, a very narrow ban, clearly designed to cause as little disruption in daily life as possible. Honestly, it wouldn’t surprise me if the people most upset about this are exactly the people who should be upset – rich dingdongs with private jets.

France has been given the green light to ban short haul domestic flights.

The European Commission has approved the move which will abolish flights between cities that are linked by a train journey of less than 2.5 hours.

The decision was announced on Friday. The changes are part of the country’s 2021 Climate Law and were first proposed by France’s Citizens’ Convention on Climate – a citizens’ assembly tasked with finding ways to reduce the country’s carbon emissions.

France is also cracking down on the use of private jets for short journeys in a bid to make transport greener and fairer for the population.

Transport minister Clément Beaune said the country could no longer tolerate the super rich using private planes while the public are making cutbacks to deal with the energy crisis and climate change.

The super rich are not accustomed to having to follow rules, so we shall see whether they are held to this, or whether they manage to buy their way out of it. This is a trial run that will be re-assessed after three years, but I hope it’s just the start of a broader shift from air to rail travel, at least within Europe. I don’t have extremely high hopes for the U.S., but wouldn’t it be nice to have high-speed rail tying all of the Americas together? One baby-step at a time, I suppose.

Initially, the ban will only affect three routes between Paris Orly and Nantes, Lyon, and Bordeaux where there are genuine rail alternatives.

If rail services improve, it could see more routes added including those between Paris Charles de Gaulle and Lyon and Rennes as well as journeys between Lyon and Marseille. They currently don’t meet the criteria for the ban because trains to airports in Paris and Lyon don’t allow passengers to arrive early in the morning or late in the evening.

Others – such as routes from Paris Charles de Gaulle to Bordeaux and Nantes – weren’t included because the journey time is more than the 2.5 hour limit.

Connecting flights will also have to follow these new rules.

It’s a glimpse of a better world, if we can build it.

‘Cause to be victorious, you must find glory in the little things.


  1. Allison says

    I don’t have extremely high hopes for the U.S., but wouldn’t it be nice to have high-speed rail tying all of the Americas together?

    The situation for the US is very different from France or even Western Europe.

    High-speed rail works in Western Europe mainly because the population density is higher and everything is (by US standards) so close together, that flying these short distances doesn’t really improve your travel time much, once you consider the time spent getting to and from the airport and the time spent on the ground there.

    The US consists of (relatively) high-density metropolitan areas separated by long distances through low-density areas. High-speed rail makes sense within a metropolitan area (e.g., Boston-DC corridor), but less so for the long distances between areas. Even with the highest high-speed rail, NYC to Chicago will still be an all-day (or overnight) trip.

    And that’s just the USA, not “all of the Americas.”

  2. says

    Yes and no. Long-distance, high-speed rail is entirely viable between cities, which could take the place of plane travel within a given continent.

    I do think that the US needs to re-structure a lot of how it’s laid out, though, or it will always be burdened by the necessity for individualized transit.

    And, of course, the total amount of traveling people do – for work in particular – probably needs to decrease as we move away from a profit/growth-driven model.

    As always, I’m not pretending this won’t be a lot of work, but it’ll be less worth than trying to maintain the current arrangement as the temperature continues to rise.

  3. billseymour says

    I think Allison @1 has it exactly backwards.  Increasing top speed does little to decrease total running time when stations are close together because the savings between stations are almost entirely lost due to greater time spent decelerating to zero at stations, and then accelerating back to track speed.  Trains, even passenger trains, are very massive; and steel wheels on steel rails don’t provide a whole lot of traction.  They don’t speed up and slow down like your car.

    Speeding up all the slow track (below 79 mph) that we have in the US would have a much bigger bang for the buck than increasing top speeds.

    I’m one who thinks that traveling by train is much more enjoyable than flying, yet another reason for trains beyond just helping the climate a bit.  For example, I’ll be attending an ISO standards committee meeting in Issaquah, Washington in February, and I’ll be riding Amtrak because I’m retired now and have all the time I need.

    I’ll depart St. Louis, Missouri on Thursday, Feb. 2, at 06:40 and arrive in Chicago, Illinois at 12:05.  I’ll then have about a three-hour wait to I catch the Empire Builder, arriving in Seattle, Washington on Saturday, Feb. 4, at 11:29.  I’m allowing an extra day just in case the Builder gets caught in a showdrift…or something.

    I’ll spend the night at a hotel that’s just about half a block from Seattle’s King Street Station; then on Sunday, I’ll do some touristy stuff (probably the Acquarium and Pike Place Market), and then take a taxi to Issaquah where I’ll begin six nights at the meeting hotel.

    The meeting will end around noon on Saturday, Feb. 11, so I’ll have plenty of time to have lunch and take a taxi back to Seattle to catch the eastbound Builder at 16:55.

    The train is scheduled to arrive in Chicago at 16:45 on Monday, Feb. 13; but I can’t count on it being on time to make a connection back to St. Louis; so I’ll spend the night at a hotel that’s just three blocks south of Union Station.  I’ll take a train back to St. Louis the next morning.  That’ll be thirteen days total including the 5½-day meeting.

    I could have booked a round-trip flight between St. Louis and SeaTac and gone first class for what I’ve paid for the Amtrak tickets, but I’m fortunate that I can afford it if I don’t try to afford other stuff that I don’t really want that much anyway, and flying wouldn’t be nearly as much fun.

  4. Dunc says

    There is a very obvious and straight-forward ruse to get around the ban on private jets making short-haul flights – make the flight longer, say by going via a different airport which does not have good enough rail links. Yes, it’s more expensive, but running a private jet is ridiculously expensive anyway.

    The other obvious option, since I very much doubt these restrictions will be enforced by jail sentences, is just to pay the fines.

    Still, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step…

  5. Dunc says

    Even with the highest high-speed rail, NYC to Chicago will still be an all-day (or overnight) trip.

    NYC to Chicago is around 1200 km. The average speed of the TGV is around 280 km/h. So that works out at about 4.3 hours travel time… To fly the same journey is around 2 hours, plus the time to get to and from the airport, plus time spent faffing around in the airport. (How is airport security in the US these days?)

    As for “the highest high-speed rail”, “[t]he fastest single long-distance run on the TGV was done by a TGV Réseau train from Calais-Frethun to Marseille (1,067.2 km (663.1 mi)i) in 3 hours 29 minutes at a speed of 306 km/h.” [source]

  6. says

    A single step indeed.

    It wouldn’t be hard to penalize that workaround, should those in power choose to do so. The better option would be to simply end the use of private jets, but I accept that we’re not there yet.

  7. billseymour says

    Dunc @5:  what if I don’t want to go to Chicago?  What if my destination is Albany, Buffalo, Cleveland or Toledo?   (Those are the major cities on the route of Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited…high-speed trains would likely skip all of the other fourteen stops otherwise they wouldn’t be much faster in total travel time.)

    Trains are not airplanes; they make stops along the way.  That’s kinda the point.

  8. Dunc says

    billseymour, @7: That was just the example given by Allison. Obviously stopping along the way reduces the average speed over the whole journey somewhat, but even so, I don’t see how fourteen additional stops is going to turn a four-and-a-bit hour journey into “an all-day (or overnight) trip”.

    Generally, when you have a half-way decent train service, you have some express trains that make very few stops, for long-distance travellers, and others which make more stops, for those who aren’t going the whole length of the line. You also tend to have high-speed long-distance services and slower local services, designed to work together.

  9. billseymour says

    Dunc, you’re right about how trains seem to work in Western Europe, at least in my experience; but the chances of getting such a network in the US are slim to none.

    And even the high-speed trains in Europe don’t reach anywhere near their top speeda in urban areas.  That requires a dedicated right of way.

    Like I said @3, speeding up low-speed track (e.g., 25 to 40 mph, or 45 to 60 mph) could be done with a lot less money and could yield a much greater reduction in total trip time than trying to go the full 150+ mph between stops.

  10. billseymour says

    Oops…“top speeds”, not “top speeda” [hangs head in shame].

  11. Dunc says

    but the chances of getting such a network in the US are slim to none.

    I expect you’re probably right there, but the reasons for that do not include that “[e]ven with the highest high-speed rail, NYC to Chicago will still be an all-day (or overnight) trip” as Allison claimed, because it’s simply not the case. That’s all I was trying to address.

    I’m in absolutely no position to comment on the real challenges of trying to deliver a better rail service in the US.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *