Deutsche Bahn’s membership of Star Alliance prompted by sustainability issues

For the first time, a train company has joined one of the big airline alliances.

As reported in the media, German rail network Deutsche Bahn is joining the alliance on August 1st, connecting stations and services to and from Lufthansa’s FRA hub, to Star Alliance flights.

One of the big reasons for why this is happening is sustainability.  A common demand by environmental groups, and increasingly also by politicians seeking to highlight their ‘green’ credentials, is that domestic air travel in Europe is moved onto the rail network.

In Germany Lufthansa already offers “Lufthansa Express Rail” services from over 20 German cities to its FRA hub.

This includes Berlin (home of the new and much delayed BER), and Hamburg – cities also served by domestic flights from FRA.

Other European countries have likewise tried to move domestic flights onto rail. In France, in theory flights that could be done by a train ride of under 2.5 hours are not allowed, though as Simon Calder in the Independent explains, the reality is very different.

Meanwhile in the Netherlands, KLM and the Thalys high speed train network are further developing their joint AirRail product with a view to making it more appealing to customers. 

The aim is to increase the number of passengers connecting KLM flights at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol who travel from Brussels – and back – by train.

Could Thalys (which also runs to Paris and has SNCF as a major shareholder) be next in joining SkyTeam?

Our take on this is that airlines will over the next decade be increasingly coaxed to cut out domestic services where there is a fast and viable rail alternative.

So the Deutsche Bahn move is smart (DB has its own lounge network, you imagine Star Alliance silver / gold members will have access), as it’s where things are heading anyway.

Of course, this will only work in places where there is a modern, fast rail network, largely in continental Europe. 

For example, looking at the UK, you couldn’t easily replace BA’s daily MAN – LHR feeder flights, despite them only taking 45 minutes, as getting from Manchester Airport to Heathrow Terminal Five by train involves several changes, including in Central London.

However, UK climate change and noise activists (supported by a think tank) are now saying that London City Airport should close, and that the land be used for housing. 

The reason?  They argue that the new “Elizabeth” train line which connects LHR with central and East London, makes the case for LCY redundant.

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