Travel by train is on the rise across Europe. New night trains and a growing awareness of the environmental impact of travel are partly to thank. Rising flight prices, fueled by fuel costs and post-pandemic demand, are also playing a role.
But traveling by train is always cheaper than to fly?
While commuters can take advantage of discounted passes, tourists typically have to shell out for one-time train tickets dictated by their travel plans. when balance for a trip, travel expenses are a key consideration.
Rail fares vary widely across Europe. As of November 2022, train fares have increased by 3% in the EU over the past five years. Inflation has hit some European countries hardest, such as the UK and Sweden.
So which countries have the highest train fares in Europe?
Rail fares depend on the type of ticket, such as single or return, and the time of reservation, such as buying the ticket on the day of travel or in advance. We’ve considered all of these options here, looking at the prices for travel between train stations in capital cities and the closest ones train stations within a distance of approximately 80 kilometres.
The routes considered here are based on the information provided by Vouchercloud. We also looked at all datasets for early January 2023 provided by national rail websites.
Single bookings on the day of travel: UK is the most expensive
The UK it is by far the most expensive country in terms of a single trip with tickets booked on the day of travel. You would pay £30 (€33.90) to travel from London Paddington Station to Oxford.
In 2019, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) released a study showing increases in train fares and weekly earnings in the UK. The TUC concluded that rail fares have increased by 46% over the past 10 years, while nominal weekly earnings have increased by only 23%.
“We are already paying the highest ticket prices in Europe to travel on overcrowded and understaffed trains,” TUC secretary general Frances O’Grady said at the time.
Norway it is the second most expensive country for one-way train tickets, with a single from Oslo to Kongsvinger costing €25.20.
AustriaFrance and the Netherlands are the most expensive countries respectively.
Latvia, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia are the cheapest countries for single trips when tickets are purchased on the day of travel. In these countries it is possible to buy tickets for less than €5. For example, traveling from Riga to Krustpils costs only €4.10.
Germany also offers affordable tickets; it is possible to travel between Berlin and Fürstenberg for €10.70.
Norway is the most expensive country for return train tickets
In almost all countries, round-trip or return rail tickets cost twice as much as a one-way journey, except the UK, where there is only a minimal difference between return rail fares .
While a single journey between London and Oxford costs £30 (€33.90), a return ticket would cost £32.60 (€37) on the day of travel. This significantly affects round-trip fare comparisons between countries.
Norway is the most expensive country for train travel as a passenger has to pay €50.40 to travel between Oslo and Kongsvinger round-trip. Austria Norway follows with €38.60 return between Vienna and Melk.
The UK is the third most expensive country in this category, followed by France and Switzerland. You would pay €36.80 for the round trip between Paris and Chartres, or €34.50 between Bern and Lausanne.
Considering round-trip fares, Latvia, Hungary and Poland are still the cheapest countries with round-trip fares about double the price of single tickets.
Book early for the cheapest tickets in the UK
Booking in advance often has a major impact on train fares. The sooner you plan, the cheaper the tickets might be. However, this is not necessarily the case for all routes considered here, which are located between capital cities and the nearest train stations within an 80 kilometer radius.
There are typically slight differences between buying tickets on the day of travel or buying them four weeks in advance. In most countries, that’s not a significant difference.
The UK is again an exception, as the cheapest tickets available between London and Oxford, both during off-peak hours and at any other time, vary widely. Different trains offer fares ranging from a single for £5.40 (€6.10) to a return for £10.70 (€12.20). Such tickets allow one-time travel without refund. In this case, traveling by train in the UK is quite cheap.
Between London and Oxford, off-peak fares apply for the morning and afternoon off-peak hours (Monday to Friday, 6.30am to 9.30am and 4pm to 7pm) at £30 (€34). Off-peak tickets allow you to travel at any time outside peak hours and fares are £30 for both an outward and return journey. To travel during peak times, you’ll need to pay £73 (€83) unless you book in advance.
For rail fares booked four weeks in advance, Norway is the most expensive country for both single and return tickets. Followed by Austria, France, Belgium and Ireland, which have return fares within 80km of their capital cities in excess of €25.
Which country has the most expensive rail fares per kilometre?
We can also compare rail fares per kilometer as distances vary slightly. For a standard return ticket for one kilometer on the day of travel, Norway has the highest fare at €0.33. Austria (€0.25), France (€0.24), United Kingdom (€0.23) and Switzerland (€0.22).
Latvia, Poland and Hungary have the lowest train fares at less than €0.05 per kilometre.
If tickets are purchased four weeks in advance, there are some changes in this ranking. While the average off-peak fare for a kilometer is €0.23 in the UK, it drops to €0.08 with the cheapest options. Switzerland also offers cheaper rates for early bookings.
NorwayAustria and France are still the most expensive countries even if you book four weeks in advance.
Which European countries have reduced their train fares?
In the EU, the annual rate of inflation was 11.1% in November 2022, reaching levels not seen since the early 1980s. The cost of transporting passengers by rail has increased in most EU Member States, although it has decreased in some others. Rail fares have increased by 3% in the EU over the past five years since November 2022.
Lithuania has seen the highest rail fare inflation at 44% according to Eurostat. Poland follows at 25 percent, then Romania (21%) and United Kingdom (20% – ONS data).
However, there have been substantial declines in some EU Member States. The largest decrease was observed in Luxembourg at 24%. Rail Passenger Price Index values have also decreased in Ireland (18%), Germany (15%) and Greece (12%) over the past five years.
Rail fare inflation reflects the costs of carrying passengers by rail in general, but not necessarily on the routes we examined above. Rate comparisons also do not take purchasing power into account. Average wages are significantly different across Europe and rail fares per kilometer may differ over long distances.