I’ve just booked for my third trip by train to the Alps this winter and as for the previous two trips (to Les Arcs in December and Courchevel in January), I’ve analysed the cost of taking the train relative to flying.

My motivation is to reduce my carbon footprint – and travelling by train saves 162 kgCO2 per person – but let’s see how this trip to Switzerland comes out in terms of cost.

Return Train to Zurich (9h45m, £244, 24 kgCO2)

I live in Brighton, so this journey takes me from Brighton-London St Pancras-Paris-Zurich. I booked my trains direct with Eurostar and SNCF on their websites on 26 January 2020.

I’m leaving Brighton at 07:41 and arriving in Zurich at 18:26. That’s 9 hours 45 minutes travelling time to Zurich, with three changes (London/Paris/Basel).

From Zurich, whether I fly or not, the obvious way to travel to resort is by train, as the Swiss railway system is so good, so I have stopped the comparison there.

Now let’s look at cost:

Brighton-London return                             £38
London-Paris return                                    £109
Paris-Zurich                                                  £97
Total Cost by train                                      £244



Return Flights to Zurich (6h53m, £169, 160 kgCO2)

For the purposes of comparison, I looked at the equivalent journey flying from London Gatwick (the closest airport to Brighton) with easyJet to Zurich.

Unfortunately, easyJet only operate flights at inconvenient times, leaving very early or very late. Prices were around £95 return, but would have meant arriving in resort on arrival and back to Brighton at 11.30pm on both occasions.

A better choice for flights to Switzerland is Swiss Airlines. They have many more flights, albeit from Heathrow or City – not quite as convenient for me in Brighton.

I chose flights arriving and leaving Zurich at around the same times as my trains (so connecting with trains to resort), travelling with one checked luggage bag weighing up to 23kg.

Arriving 2 hours before the time of departure, taking the 13:45 flight from Heathrow, I would have to leave Brighton at 09:57. For timings, I have assumed the flight arrives on time at 1635, and it takes 75 minutes to get through customs, collect luggage and travel to Zurich’s main railway station (arriving 1750).

That’s 6 hours and 53 minutes travelling time, with three changes (Victoria/Heathrow/Zurich Airport).

Now let’s look at cost:

Brighton-Heathrow return                          £49
Heathrow-Zurich return                              £120

Total Cost by air                                          £169


What’s the carbon cost of flying?

So, in this case, flying would be 3 hours quicker and £75 less expensive. If that’s all you’re interested in, it would be the choice for you.

However, the carbon cost of the flight alone, excluding the UK trains would be 160 kg/CO2 – almost seven times the emissions generated travelling by train.

(c) Clodagh Kilcoyne

Advantages of taking the train to the Alps

Don’t forget that travelling by train is so much more than simply reducing your carbon footprint:

  • Trains are less likely to be delayed and don’t get stuck on the tarmac
  • Trains don’t lose your luggage
  • You can get up and walk around on a train
  • You can look out the window and admire the views on a train
  • Train travel is just so darn civilised in comparison with flying
  • Let the holiday start when you board at St Pancras and just RELAX!

The next time you travel to the Alps, remember that nobody is too small to make a difference and Ski Flight Free.