Packed train beats cheap plane to Copenhagen

December 11, 2009

Imagine standing packed inside a commuter train with a thousand other people, some in dire need of a shower, some apparently having eaten garlic for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Imagine your fingertips clinging to a metal overhead rack as you struggle to stay upright on turns and bumps in the track. And then imagine doing that for hours on end.

GERMANY-RAIL/STRIKESThat’s what the train trip from Berlin to Copenhagen today was like as some 45,000 demonstrators converged on the Danish capital for Saturday’s march. But the journey was still a lot of fun — and we saw a myriad of wind turbines in both northern Germany and southwestern Denmark turning in the breeze, and thousands more roof-top photovoltaic systems extracting what little daylight they could out of the mid-December sky.

Fortunately, most of the people headed to the demonstration were in a fabulous mood. And there was even a happy ending to the ride — for the last two hours of the trip, in Denmark, an extra four carriages were added so just about everyone ended up getting a seat for the final third of the ride from Berlin, via Hamburg and a short ferry-hop.

Before that, the train was so full of German, Italian, French and Dutch demonstrators that the conductor didn’t bother to check for tickets, and the border guards gave up before they even started. “Forget it Heinrich,” one German border guard said to his colleague. “It’s too full. Just stay where you are.” They got off at the next stop without checking anyone’s passport.

Some of the lucky few who did had a seat reservation seemed very unhappy indeed as they struggled through the packed aisle to get to their seat and invariably had to shoo someone, often in a woolly sweater, away from the seat they had paid a few euros extra for. But, as ridiculously packed as the train was, no one lost their temper. “We all just need to stay calm here,” said one bearded protester in a soothing voice. “We’re all in the same boat.” CLIMATE-COPENHAGEN/

Taking a plane would have been a lot easier and faster — and could have cost less than the 150 euros ($220) the train cost, had I booked early enough. I had thought long and hard about flying instead of taking the train.

But the one-hour plane trip would have produced three times as much CO2 — 102 kg, compared to 34 kg for the six-hour train ride. It seems odd to have a system where the plane costs the same or even less than a train. It’s hard to imagine how answers to climate change will be found as long as plane journeys cost less than train rides.

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