I just finished a rail trip from Paris to Stockholm for Wikimania 2019. I'm trying to do a few things to lower my climate footprint. In particular, I've decided to shift my regional intercity travel to rail, and reserve air travel for intercontinental or transcontinental travel. Air travel has about 10x the carbon load of rail travel. Air travel is responsible for about 27% of greenhouse gas generation, so cutting down air travel can be a big help.
My rough rule of thumb has been that rail trips that are less than about 12 hours are probably OK. They offset air trips that take about that much time anyway; the travel time by air will be much less, but the requirements to get out to an airport well before flight time can push the door-to-door time of air travel really high.
For our trip to Europe this summer, we've done all our travel (except getting here) by rail. Most of the legs of our trips have been on the order of 200-400km, so pretty tractable for trips of 4 to 6 hours. Our longest leg, from Marseilles to Paris, was almost 800km, but the TGV train got us there in less than 4 hours. High-speed rail ftw!
Getting from Paris to Stockholm was a lot harder, though. First, it was almost 1900km from Paris to Stockholm by rail (much shorter by air). With a total of 24 hours of travel time (!), this was much longer than my rule of thumb.
I'd followed Greta Thunberg, the Swedish climate activist who only travels by rail, in her travel around Europe. I'd seen her do this trip before, and I figured it couldn't be that bad. I had the romantic notion that European rail was much easier, faster and more efficient than in North America. Although generally true, this hit a snag just on the complexity of the trip.
I crossed 5 different national borders and used 3 different national rail systems. I wasn't able to find an integrated Web service that could clarify those junctures well, so I had to resolve them manually.
I resolved the problem by taking multiple breaks and spreading the travel over several days. I concentrated on legs of the trip that could be completed by a single national rail line, crossing at most 2 national borders. So my first leg went from Paris to Amsterdam, and was short and simple. I spent the night in Amsterdam and started the next leg the next day.
The leg from Amsterdam to Copenhagen was harder. It was about 14 hours, and had two late-night transfers.
I spent a day in Copenhagen and got another leg from Copenhagen to Stockholm. This was one of the worst; there was a major outage due to a fire between Malmo and Stockholm on the rail lines, so my train was cancelled and I had to take a night train through a much longer route.
Overall, the trip was more time than I wanted to spend, and just a lot more sitting in train seats than I'd normally want to do. I'm going to try to keep my future rail travel under about 500km for conventional rail, and 1000km for high-speed rail.
The learning experience was great, though. I think splitting up the trip into multiple legs and spending an overnight in each city worked well. I'd like to try it for bigger trips in North America, maybe doing a cross-continental trip with 2-4 city stops between Montreal and San Francisco.
I feel like the net outcome was worth it, and I'm proud of giving it a try. I hope that my effort gives my friends and colleagues some ideas for shifting their own air travel to rail. The more of us that do it, the more likely that the infrastructure shifts to make it easier and faster for everyone.