Mark Smith and Simon Calder are having a race today. Mark is taking the new Lumo train from London to Edinburgh, and Simon is racing him – on a flight. It’s a bit of fun, but with a serious purpose – as passengers often underestimate the time it takes them to get to/from the airport, they assume the plane is faster than a train that – while its total trip time might be longer – it nevertheless has a shorter total journey time as it goes from city centre to city centre.

So here’s an idea to replicate Mark vs. Simon in Germany – let’s call it #ZugGegenFlug – or train against plane.

While there is no new train operator in Germany, Deutsche Bahn is nevertheless stepping up its long distance ICE services this autumn to better compete with air connections. So how about a kind of race to test how well the train does?

It’d work on these routes:

Berlin – München (fastest train: 3:56 – train should win this one)
Berlin – Frankfurt (Main) (fastest train: 3:52 – train should win this one)
Berlin – Bonn (fastest train: 4:43 – this one will be tight)
Hamburg – München (fastest train: 5:37 – plane should win this one)
Hamburg – Frankfurt (Main) (fastest train: 3:21 – train should win this one)
(I am open to adding some more – perhaps also to/from Stuttgart, or perhaps also Düsseldorf – München too? Düsseldorf-München train is 4:12)

And if we wanted to expand it internationally we could also include
München – Zürich (fastest train: 3:32 – train should win this one)
München – Wien (fastest train: 4:07 – this one will be tight)
Frankfurt (Main) – Paris (fastest train: 3:42 – train should win this one)
Frankfurt (Main) – Bruxelles (fastest train: 3:07 – train should win this one easily, but might be unreliable!)
Frankfurt (Main) – Amsterdam (fastest train: 4:25 – this one will be tight)
Hamburg – København (fastest train: 4:37 – this one will be tight)

All the routes would be done on the same day, with a pair of travellers setting out in the morning – one with the train, the other with the plane – and to then meet up at their destination. In the afternoon the return trip would be reversed – the person who took the train in the morning would take the plane in the afternoon.

All participants would have mobile phones with GPS tracking (for when on the ground and in trains), and FlightRadar24 could be used to track the planes. Participants can walk or use public transport (bus, tram, metro or local trains) to and from the main stations. Each would document their experiences as they went along, and trips would then all be followed using the tag on Twitter.

We’d need some budget to be able to do this – even were the participants to be able to give up their time for free, we cannot expect them to foot the cost of the tickets. Could organisations like VCD or Allianz Pro Schiene perhaps step in to provide this budget? Or maybe a media group that would be interested in telling the story?

There could also be a ticketing aspect to the whole thing – to find out who paid what for the tickets if these were booked a number of weeks ahead.

Some reflection would be needed as to the starting and ending points – would the participants start from their homes in their respective cities, and then get to set destinations (like Marienplatz in München, Römer in Frankfurt, Brandenburger Tor in Berlin)? Or would it be fairer to make it city centre to city centre for each one? Likewise would the participants be responsible for choosing their routes, or would that be stipulated for them? Those points would need to be cleared up.

So what do you think? At the very least it would be an interesting experiment I think!

12 Comments

  1. Jonathan Schulster

    As generally the point is to go from city center to city center, it seems the only fair fight is to start at a recognized city center point and include the journey to/from the airports, compared to the train. For most travellers this will be the reality of any journey as no one actually lives at airports, and it is very seldom the endpoint of any journey between cities.

  2. Andreas

    Lufthansa has a lot of feeder-routes from FRA and MUC, which should be possible in a similiar time by train if you measure the time between the city-centers:

    Frankfurt-Düsseldorf
    Frankfurt-Hanover
    Frankfurt-Leizpig
    Frankfurt-Nuremberg
    Munich-Leipzig
    Munich-Stuttgart

    Düsseldorf-Hamburg should also be competetive as well, Düsseldorf-Stuttgart, too, but it wasn’t resumed yet after Corona. KLM operates Düsseldorf-Amsterdam, which should also be faster by train.
    Frankfurt-Stuttgart

  3. If the travellers set out after breakfast, this could give a bias in favour of the train, since most rail services are set up to move passengers during the day, airlines not so much. Perhaps each traveller should set their own starting time. I suppose 3am is still “in the morning”! (The question was about speed, not about having a nice journey – then the train wins every time :-).

    Regarding city centre start-point: that also gives a bias – we want to be fair, ¿no? So maybe start in a residential area, an exact distance and direction (say, 3km south) from the city centre. Or take an equal-sided triangle made up of train station, airport, and starting point.

  4. Wolf-Christian Paes

    Hi, I’m definitely up to it for Bonn-Berlin, a trip which I have taken many times for business reasons. Usually I have preferred the plane, but with the DB Sprinter trains, the game might change.

  5. Jesper Groenvold

    I like the idea, even if it is flawed in some cases. Take Munich to Zurich. The competition to the train is the car. It can be done in about 3h45 and has the flexibility of not having a set departure time.
    As for Hamburg – Copenhagen you beat train and plane by car, but unless you are 3 or more people the cost of the ferry becomes prohibitive.

  6. Hi Jon, great idea – I would love to join and since I do live Munich some of the routes would be easy for me to do on a weekend.

    I.am also starting up a German page on train travel (Pinguin-ecotrips.com), thus I would be really interested to communicate the ehole race there 🙂
    Let me know if you need volunteers.

  7. Mohammad-Omar Diab El-Arab

    It sounds like a superb idea. I’d genuinely love to give more of these a go; I’m studying civil engineering at the moment and one of my big inspirations was transport integration in cities and over long distances. I reckon both will be put to very good use in these races, dare I say even by the plane users!

  8. Viktoria M

    In my experience, the train stations are usually at or very near the city centers while airports are usually far outside. Examples: FRA and the hauptbahnhof, MUC and the hauptbahnhof or CDG and the Gare Nord. Maybe a point halfway between train station and airport?

  9. If you are interested I would like to do a Amsterdam-Frankfurt train/plane race

  10. Stefan

    Regarding the start- and endpoints, I suggest using the geographic centre of the respective city. This would be a fair solution, because it would (probably) coincide with the “average middle of where people live” (people here meaning the whole population of that city). It’s a much better solution than a door-to-door-race, because if a participant of the race lives right next to an airport or a train station, such “outliers” would not be taken into account. The race would therefor mathematically/geopgraphically be representative of the whole population of that city.

    Still, the geographic centre of a city/town usually is much closer to a train station than an airport. But the argument that this constitutes an unfair advantage can be countered by the fact that this just represents the situation every inhabitant of that city has to deal with “in real life”.

    • Michelle

      I’m interested in being a participant for the train only. Zurich to Munich would be my choice.
      Michelle

  11. Douwe Korff

    Great idea! Btw, I feel that there is a further factor to take into account apart from overall time: the number of changes, esp between different forms of transport (and the trudging about with suitcases etc). In that regard, long-distance trains win by miles (pun intended) 🙂

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