France encourages modal shift to rail by banning short haul flights

1 min read

France has formally banned short haul domestic flights on routes where people can take the train instead, as the country encourages more people to travel by rail to reduce transport carbon emissions.

France's low-cost high-speed rail brand Ouigo Grande Vitesse
France's low-cost high-speed rail brand Ouigo Grande Vitesse

The ban is in place for routes that can be completed by train in less than two-and-a-half hours. The new law also states that the alternative train routes must be frequent and meet the requirements of passengers who would otherwise fly.  

As a result of the ban, routes connecting cities such Paris and Nantes and Paris and Lyon can no longer be taken by air, but instead must be travelled by less polluting train journeys. Connecting flights are unaffected.

According to France 24, the government had already secured Air France's compliance with the plan in exchange for a 2020 coronavirus financial support package.

France currently operates the second largest European railway network, which along with regional services, includes an established and low-cost high-speed network, with more lines currently being constructed or planned. Trains produce at least 80% fewer emissions than planes per passenger journey.

Original proposals on flight bans in the country included scrapping plane journeys where train routes of under four hours existed. Following objections from airlines, this was reduced to two-and-a-half hours.

According to a report by the AFP News Agency, Laurent Donceel, interim head of industry group Airlines for Europe (A4E), said that banning the short haul flights “will only have minimal effects” on emissions. He added that governments should instead support "real and significant solutions" to the issue.

A4E highlighted its own net zero by 2050 strategy, which includes switching to jet fuel from non-fossil sources and deploying battery- or hydrogen-powered aircraft.

France isn’t the first country to ban some short-haul flights. In 2020, for example, Austrian Airlines ceased Vienna-Salzburg operations as government bailout terms required it to eliminate domestic flights on route which Austrian Federal Railways trains cover in three hours or less.

Read more about this and modal shift in general in the January 2022 issue of Electric & Hybrid Rail Technology Magazine here.