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Business travel is more commonly associated with airlines than trains, but rail travel is healthy across the globe and will likely grow as countries invest more in high-speed networks.

European rail is expanding in key countries such as France, Germany and Italy. Likewise in China, there are a growing number of super-high speed rail lines that can travel above 300 km per hour between major cities, such as Beijing and Shanghai.

According to the UK Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC), 1.4 billion rail journeys were made in the UK from March 2011 to March 2012, the highest figure since the 1920s, and one billion of these journeys are made by commuters and business travellers.

In the UK, the rail market share (the number of journeys taken by rail) on the 10 most popular domestic air routes grew to 44% in 2011 -- up from 29% in 2006. If the trend continues, the ATOC predicts 50% of these routes will be travelled by rail within 12 months.

“These days, the facilities on board high-speed trains are extensive,” said Jonathan Hume, managing director, of International Rail, an online global rail ticketing company based in Melbourne, Australia. “Trains have wi-fi, restaurants and cafes -- all suitable for business travellers.” International Rail sales figures for corporate train travel globally rose 60% from April 2011 to April 2012.

Flexibility, greater connectivity and high fuel prices (which lead to higher airfare) have been cited as reasons for the rise in rail. Business travellers are also able to use their time more productively on trains. Stations are more numerous and centrally located within each city, therefore they’re closer to hotels and business meetings. 

There are fewer security procedures and no check-in for trains. And on the corporate social responsibility front, travelling by rail has a considerably smaller carbon footprint than travelling by road or air.

“Rail travel is one of the most “green” forms of public transport and [it is now possible to] report on carbon emissions for each journey,” said Jennifer Swierc, operations manager for ATPI Group, a global travel management company. “Corporate clients are also increasingly requesting to track their footprint for corporate sustainability reports.”

The Barcelona to Madrid line, which opened four years ago, has also seen an increase in ridership. Rail market share, compared to air, has increased from 12% in 2008 to 49% in 2011, with more than seven million people travelling on the route annually. In Germany, high-speed trains now account for 97% of the air-rail market between Cologne and Frankfurt.

In key European markets, high-speed rail ticket prices are predicted to rise by more than 4% next year due to its popularity over air, according to forecasts by Carlson Wagonlit, a global travel management company. Nine percent rises are expected in premium cabins, where travellers can access free wireless Internet and other facilities.

In the US, Amtrak set a new record as passengers across its national network grew 3.7% from October 2011 to March 2012, with more than 30 million people travelling.  the Northeast Corridor line between Washington DC and Boston, which is popular among business travellers, saw an 8% rise in that same period in passenger numbers for the same period.  

Despite having to slow its originally rapid expansion plans, China recently increased its budget for railway investment this year by 16% and expects to lay 13,000 km of high-speed rail by January 2013 -- more than the combined rail network installed across all Western countries over the past half-century.

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