Jochen Geraedts likes travelling by train: ‘For convenience, comfort and the environment’

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Back Jochen Geraedts likes travelling by train: ‘For convenience, comfort and the environment’

As DHF’s regional coordinator, Jochen Geraedts travels all over Europe. If he can choose between travelling by train or by air, he will always go by train. That doesn’t necessarily take longer or cost more. And it isn’t necessarily more complicated.

Jochen Geraedts

Jochen Geraedts

Whether searching for new premises for an embassy, renovating or greening a building, or doing another of his many tasks, as the regional coordinator for Europe, Jochen is often on the go. He regularly travels to the missions in cities like Bucharest, Berlin, London and Rome. ‘But I’ve been travelling less frequently since the COVID-19 pandemic,’ he says. ‘That was one of the positive aspects of the pandemic: we found out that a lot can be done remotely. For instance, you can always ask someone living nearby to check that renovation work is going to plan.’

If travel is unavoidable
But sometimes he has to travel – to view potential properties for an embassy, or to help deal with complaints about the location of a mission, for instance. ‘You can’t always see a problem on a map,’ Jochen points out. ‘How long it takes to get from the embassy to other important places in the vicinity during rush hour, for example. And to get a feeling of what’s going on, you need to look each other in the eye from time to time, and spend some time together. The project systems we use in The Hague can’t always capture local reality.’
Sustainability is one of Jochen’s watchwords – for the ministry’s properties, and for his own travel. Ever since his first day at the ministry four years ago, he has been a fervent supporter of rail travel for short and medium-length journeys. ‘If I have to travel back and forth to London or Berlin 20 times to negotiate the sale of a plot of land, I’m not going to take the plane,’ says Jochen. ‘You can get there just as fast by train. I was lucky to have a manager who supported me in this. The new rules make it even easier,’ he says, referring to the rule introduced this year requiring ministry staff to take the train for journeys of less than eight hours.

Environmentally friendly and relaxing
The train is Jochen’s preferred option for practically all journeys. ‘To start with, travel by train is more environmentally friendly than flying. It’s also more comfortable. I’m allowed to travel first class, in a comfy seat, and in some countries they even serve refreshments. An added advantage is that I see much more of the continent for which I make policy than I would from a plane. Europe is incredibly beautiful, in terms of nature, cultural heritage and so on, but from the train you also get a better view of the towns and villages you pass through. In Romania, I was struck by the beauty of the countryside, but also by the poverty in the smaller towns and villages outside Bucharest. You get a very different picture if you travel from airport to airport.’ Travel by train is also more convenient. ‘No need to check in or go through passport control,’ he explains. ‘You arrive feeling totally relaxed.’
Jochen is a walking railway timetable. He knows that you can travel from Utrecht to Basel without changing trains, and that you can do both Vienna and Budapest in a single journey. ‘People think that a train journey takes far longer than travelling the same distance by air.’ he says. ‘But they’re mistaken. The train takes you from city centre to city centre. From The Hague you’re in Paris in three hours, and in Berlin in six and a half, and you can be in Vienna by mid-afternoon if you take an early train. Add up the time you need to get to the airport, check in, go through passport control, walk to the gate, board the plane, and travel from the airport where you landed to the centre of town, and you’ll sometimes find that the train is faster. The big advantage is that you can work on the train, so these are functional hours. There are power sockets, and you have access to WiFi. It’s a lot more difficult to use your laptop on a plane.’

Time versus emissions
Of course he realises that it takes a lot longer to travel by train to a city like Milan than to fly there. ‘But the question you have to ask yourself is whether those few hours are in relation to the impact on the environment,’ says Jochen. ‘Once night-time train services have been fully developed in Europe, I can see no reason to travel by air to destinations like this.’ Better night-time services are essential to enable rail travel to some destinations. ‘I’m not planning to travel to Bucharest by train again,’ Jochen continues. ‘I tried it once. I first took the sleeper to Vienna, and then travelled to Bucharest the following night. That wasn’t very comfortable, and I hardly slept. But I’d never take a plane for a train journey of around 11 hours – unless I had to get to my destination urgently.’
The price is also no longer a reason to travel by air. ‘If you buy a five-day Interrail pass, you can take two official trips, travelling first class, for €400.’ Jochen points out. ‘A trip to Prague, and a trip to Vienna. Or Berlin and Bern. Plane tickets aren’t always cheap. If you fly to London during peak periods, you’ll pay between €250 and €300 for your ticket.’

Easy as pie
Jochen sees it as a game to put together the best, most efficient train journey. ‘Anyone can do it,’ he says. ‘The German and French railways have apps that can plan an entire journey for you. They’ll give you the fastest journey, regardless of whether you use their services. For instance, the Deutsche Bahn app tells you that it’s best to travel from Brussels to Turin over Paris. It used to be a real challenge to book an international train journey, but now it’s easy as pie. Especially if you have an Interrail pass, because otherwise you have to buy separate tickets from every provider.’
There are also disadvantages to rail travel, but these are negligible when compared to the comfort, convenience and environmental-friendliness. ‘Most of the time, it’s problem-free,’ says Jochen. ‘I once spent the night stuck at Lille station. That’s a nuisance, but it can happen when you fly too. And the advantage if you’re stranded with the train is that you can walk into town for a cup of coffee or a bite to eat. It’s also about mindset. If, when you reach Oberhausen, you’re already stressed out about catching your connection to Basel, perhaps rail travel is not for you. But based on my own experience, I can’t see why anyone would prefer to travel by air.’