Harnessing the Potential of International Rail Travel: The Road Ahead

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Harnessing the Potential of International Rail Travel: The Road AheadAs people increasingly opt for sustainable modes of transportation, international rail travel is seeing a resurgence. Despite this growing interest, passenger advocacy groups argue that there is still significant room for improvement within the European rail network, particularly for cross-border services.

By Flora Goodwin

The Current State of International Rail Travel

The appeal of rail travel is undeniable. Whether you’re looking to relax, catch up on your favorite show, or get some work done, a train journey offers a sustainable, potentially less stressful, and comfortable alternative to driving or flying. This shift in preference has led to a 16% rise in international train journeys among German travelers last year.

However, advocacy groups like Pro Bahn argue that European rail services still have considerable issues. Cross-border services, in particular, are in dire need of improvement.

The Growing Popularity of Deutsche Bahn

Deutsche Bahn, Germany’s national railway company, has seen record numbers of international travelers. In 2023, ticket bookings in the first quarter alone surged 40% compared to the record year of 2019. As Richard Lutz, CEO of Deutsche Bahn, stated, “With our trains and our partner railways, over 200 European destinations are now directly connected with Germany.”

Yet, there’s more to the story, according to Karl-Peter Naumann of Pro Bahn. While train connections from Germany to major cities like Paris are in good shape, travelers aiming for smaller towns in neighboring countries often face high costs and multiple transfers.

Existing and Future Direct Connections

Deutsche Bahn currently offers over 250 daily international direct long-distance connections, largely due to collaborations with neighboring countries’ railway companies. These partnerships have resulted in direct services from various German cities to destinations such as Paris, Marseille, Bordeaux, Brussels, and beyond.

Future expansions are also on the cards, with plans to launch additional services to France and Belgium by mid-2023.

The Need for Improvement

Despite the existing direct connections, experts still see room for improvement in cross-border European rail travel. The Pro Schiene Alliance is calling for a Europe-wide portal where travelers can purchase a ticket for their entire route.

In addition, Deutsche Bahn’s punctuality issues are a cause for concern. In 2022, the company ranked last in a Europe-wide comparison of punctuality. Improvements in this area are crucial if Deutsche Bahn hopes to attract more international travelers in the future.


In conclusion, while the appeal of international rail travel is on the rise, there’s still work to be done. Creating a customer-friendly, Europe-wide service, improving punctuality, and fostering trust in rail travel are crucial steps toward making rail travel a go-to option for international journeys.

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