We were very pleased to see you raising the profile of some of these issues in your editorial (The Guardian view on Europe by train: virtue signalling, 2 February). We have been working with members of Back on Track across Europe to support their campaign for the revival of night trains, improved cross-border day services and simpler through-ticketing arrangements.
We shall now be asking the UK government to take a far more proactive approach in the coming months as chair of the Cop26 climate conference to be held in Glasgow this November.
First, although the UK is no longer an EU member state, there is no good reason why the UK government should not support the 2021 European Year of Rail as an independent country, particularly as joint host with Italy for the Cop26 conference.
Second, working with the Rail to the Cop campaign, we believe it is essential that the UK conference organisers encourage, support and facilitate the rail option for travel to and from the conference by delegates, journalists and lobbyists from Europe. This could be done by chartering special trains or block-booking carriages with Eurostar and Avanti West Coast. Conference organisers should also invite specialist rail travel agents to offer particular tailor-made packages for those wishing to break their journey en route or combine their trip to Glasgow with other activities.
And finally, it is absolutely essential that the UK government secures the continuing survival of Eurostar, with similar or better financial support than that provided to the airlines.
In view of the climate emergency, the UK government must also take action to develop better rail services between the UK and Europe, as an attractive alternative – in terms of cost and speed – to short-haul air travel to destinations with a flight time of less than two hours.
Chair, European Rail Campaign (UK)
• Your editorial bemoans the effect of low-cost air travel on international rail services in Europe. Decades of generous government subsidies to airlines, airports and airframe builders, along with the failure to tax aviation fuel, have created a bloated industry that is now a major contributor to global heating.
In addition, international aviation facilitates the rapid spread of deadly infections around the world. “Building back better” after the Covid-19 pandemic should therefore include the removal of public subsidies from the industry, including the environmental costs it imposes on humanity.
• How encouraging, hopeful and uplifting your editorial on transport was. In the 1960s and early 70s, I – like many of your older readers, I expect – travelled as a student through Europe using affordable sleeper trains from Ostend to Vienna or Berlin, six bunks to a compartment, sheets and blankets provided.
Looking back, I would say that my only complaint was being interrupted during the night for border and passport checks, a need obviated after we joined the EU.
To gain popularity today, adequate luggage compartments with guards would have to be reintroduced. Indeed, much thought and negotiation would be needed to bring back the smooth, pleasant rail travel you envisage, but the very necessary environmental gains are, as you point out, a no-brainer.