Rail Fares across Europe: Discovering the Most Expensive Train Tickets

train ticket to travel around europe

Train travel in Europe is experiencing a surge in popularity. With the introduction of new sleeper trains and a growing awareness of the environmental impact of air travel, more people are opting to explore Europe by rail. The recent increase in flight prices due to rising fuel costs and post-pandemic demand has further contributed to this trend. However, the question remains: Is traveling by train always cheaper than flying?

While commuters can take advantage of discounted season tickets, tourists often have to pay for one-off train tickets based on their travel plans. When planning a trip, travelers need to carefully consider travel costs as a significant aspect of their budget.

Rail fares vary significantly across Europe. As of November 2022, train fares in the European Union had increased by 3% over the past five years. Some countries, such as the UK and Sweden, experienced higher inflation rates, leading to an even more pronounced increase in rail fares.

So, which countries have the highest rail fares in Europe?

Rail fares depend on various factors, including the type of ticket (single or return) and the booking time (on the day of travel or in advance). In this analysis, we will consider prices for trips between capital cities and the closest train stations within a distance of approximately 80 kilometers.

The information provided by Vouchercloud serves as the basis for our analysis, while also reviewing datasets from national railway websites for the early January 2023 timeframe.

Single Bookings on the Day of Travel: The UK Takes the Lead

When it comes to single travel with tickets booked on the day of the journey, the UK stands out as the most expensive country by far. Traveling from London’s Paddington Station to Oxford would cost you £30 (€33.90).

In 2019, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) conducted a study on rail fares and weekly earnings in the UK. The study revealed that rail fares had risen by 46% over the past decade, while weekly earnings had only increased by 23%.

Frances O’Grady, the General Secretary of the TUC, expressed concern, stating, “We’re already paying the highest ticket prices in Europe to travel on overcrowded and understaffed trains.”

Norway follows closely as the second most expensive country for one-way rail tickets, with a single ticket from Oslo to Kongsvinger costing €25.20. Austria, France, and the Netherlands also rank high on the list of countries with expensive rail fares.

On the other hand, Latvia, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia offer the cheapest single travel options when tickets are purchased on the day of travel. It’s possible to buy tickets for less than €5 in these countries, with prices as low as €4.10 for a trip from Riga to Krustpils. Germany also provides affordable tickets, with a journey between Berlin and Fürstenberg costing €10.70.

Norway: The Most Expensive Country for Return Rail Tickets

In most countries, return or round-trip train tickets cost twice as much as a single ticket, except in the UK, where the price difference is negligible.

For example, while a single trip between London and Oxford costs £30 (€33.90), a round-trip ticket on the day of travel would only cost £32.60 (€37). This slight difference significantly affects the comparison of return fares among countries.

Norway tops the list as the most expensive country for train travel when considering return fares. Traveling between Oslo and Kongsvinger with a return ticket would cost €50.40. Austria follows closely with a return fare of €38.60 between Vienna and Melk.

The UK ranks third in this category, with France and Switzerland not far behind. A return trip between Paris and Chartres would cost €36.80, while a journey from Bern to Lausanne would amount to €34.50.

When it comes to return fares, Latvia, Hungary, and Poland remain the cheapest countries, with return tickets costing roughly twice the price of single tickets.

Booking in Advance: Cheaper Tickets in the UK

Booking train tickets in advance often leads to cheaper fares. The earlier you plan, the more affordable the tickets tend to be. However, this may not hold true for all routes considered in this analysis, which focus on trips between capital cities and the closest train stations within 80 kilometers.

Overall, the differences between buying tickets on the day of travel and purchasing them four weeks in advance are generally minor, except in the UK.

The UK stands out once again, as the cheapest available tickets for travel between London and Oxford vary significantly depending on factors such as peak/off-peak hours. Rates range from £5.40 (€6.10) for a single off-peak ticket to £10.70 (€12.20) for a return ticket. These tickets allow for one-time travel with no refunds, making train travel in the UK quite affordable.

For fares booked four weeks in advance, Norway remains the most expensive country for both single and return tickets. Austria, France, Belgium, and Ireland also have return fares exceeding €25 for trips within 80 kilometers of their capitals.

Rail Fares per Kilometer: Which Country Charges the Most?

Comparing rail fares on a per kilometer basis reveals slight variations in distances traveled. For a standard return ticket covering one kilometer on the day of travel, Norway emerges as the country with the highest fare at €0.33. Austria, France, the UK, and Switzerland follow closely.

On the other hand, Latvia, Poland, and Hungary offer the lowest rail fares, with prices below €0.05 per kilometer.

When tickets are purchased four weeks in advance, some changes occur in this ranking. While the average off-peak fare per kilometer in the UK is €0.23, it decreases to €0.08 with the cheapest options. Switzerland also provides cheaper fares for early bookings.

Norway, Austria, and France continue to be the most expensive countries, even when tickets are booked four weeks in advance.

Rail Fare Changes in European Countries

In November 2022, the European Union experienced an annual inflation rate of 11.1%, reaching levels not seen since the early 1980s. The cost of passenger transport by train increased in most EU member states, although a few saw a decline. Over the past five years, rail fares in the EU have increased by 3%.

According to Eurostat, Lithuania witnessed the highest rail fare inflation at 44%, followed by Poland at 25%, Romania at 21%, and the UK at 20% (according to ONS data).

However, some EU member states have seen significant decreases in rail fares. Luxembourg experienced the largest decrease at 24%, followed by Ireland (18%), Germany (15%), and Greece (12%) over the past five years.

Various countries in the EU, such as Germany and Spain, have also experimented with free and discounted train travel schemes, providing further relief to passengers.

It’s important to note that rail fare inflation reflects the overall costs of passenger transport by train and may not directly align with the specific routes analyzed in this article. Additionally, fare comparisons do not consider purchasing power, as average wages differ significantly across Europe. Furthermore, rail fares per kilometer may vary for longer distances.

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