Sweden’s rail travel jumps with some help from ‘flight shaming’

(Reuters) – Swedish state-owned railway operator SJ reported a 11% rise in 2019 passenger traffic on Thursday, saying concerns over the environmental impact of air travel have contributed to the spike.

The Swedish-born movement of “flight shaming”, which calls for curbs to air travel due to its environmental impact, has gained prominence over the past year and the campaign has already begun affecting markets such as Germany and Sweden, with more passengers choosing the train over flying.

“We got a push from the environmental aspects,” SJ President and CEO Crister Fritzson told Reuters.

Fritzson listed improvements in booking and payment services and punctuality as other factors which helped the railway boost traffic and win market share from airlines on important domestic routes, such as a the one linking Stockholm with Malmo, Sweden’s third-largest city.

Last month, Sweden’s state-owned airport operator Swedavia reported a 4% drop in air travel in 2019, with the decline led by a fall in domestic traffic, and cited environmental concerns as one of the reasons behind the decline.

SJ said the number of journeys completed last year with the railway rose by 2.5 million to 34.3 million. Fritzson said the trend looked set to continue in 2020, which would require government investment in the expansion of the country’s rail network.

Other European rail companies have also seen increases in traffic last year, with some announcing plans to invest in their capacity. For example, Dutch rail operator NS has reported a 13% jump in international train tickets sold last year and Spain’s national railway Renfe said high-speed AVE lines it operates saw a 4.9% increase in passenger traffic in 2019.

SJ said earlier last year it would invest 12 billion Swedish crowns ($1.24 billion) in new trains in the coming years, while Deutsche Bahn and the German government last month agreed to invest 86 billion euros ($94.07 billion) over the next 10 years to upgrade its rail network.

(This story has been refiled to add dropped word in the first paragraph)

Reporting by Tommy Lund and Jagoda Darlak; Editing by Tomasz Janowski

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