36 hours. This is how long the fastest train connection from Madrid to Stockholm will take. The journey begins at 7:20 a.m. and after five changes with breaks of several hours in some cases, the travelers arrive in Stockholm Centralan at 7:38 p.m. one day later. On her return from the UN climate summit, Greta Thunberg not only had problems with overcrowded German ICEs, but also with the connections. If you want to travel so long distances by train in Europe, you won't find any useful connections.

Since the Swedish climate activist traveled the world with trains and sailing boats, many people have been dreaming of exploring Europe without a plane. FDP leader Christian Lindner also calls for more European high-speed trains. "What would help the climate more and what would bring Europe together more than a new high-speed road from Warsaw via Berlin and Paris to Madrid?", Said Lindner at the Epiphany meeting of the FDP. A beautiful vision - but not as far from reality as one might think.

Because between Madrid and Cologne, the trains can already run at top speed for the most part. The ICE is also traveling between Hanover and Berlin at 250 kilometers an hour. In addition, Germany is thinking about expanding the Bielefeld-Hanover-Berlin route for 300 km / h. And even Poland - a European successor to high-speed trains - is now planning to expand the route from Warsaw to the west. Many of these measures have been or are being supported by the European Union and its Trans-European Networks (TEN) program. Since 2000, according to the European Court of Auditors, the EU has supported the construction of around 10,000 kilometers of high-speed road with a total of EUR 23.7 billion. And by 2030, a total of 30,000 kilometers are to be built in Europe - co-financed by EU money. Europe's longest high-speed line extends from the Spanish city of Malaga to Amsterdam, with branches to London and Cologne.

National egotisms

However, Lindner's statements and the partly enthusiastic reactions to it show that the efforts of the EU to create a Europe-wide high-speed network have so far hardly been noticed by the population. The German ICE, the French TGV, the Spanish AVE - mostly express trains are still seen as a national matter. The European Court of Auditors blames the national selfishness of the member states. Instead of an EU-wide plan, the TEN program only created an ineffective patchwork of routes from the individual member states, the auditors wrote in a special report in June 2018. Cross-border connections were of little interest to the EU member states.

First and foremost, there is no lack of lines for express trains in European rail traffic - there are connections that are competitive with the aircraft.

Kris de Decker knows that from his own experience. The Belgian technology journalist has been completely without flights since 2008 and travels from his home in Barcelona to all of Europe. "I really enjoyed this relaxed way of traveling. The first years were great," says the 48-year-old. But ultimately it had become more difficult for him to achieve his goals.

Fast trains cost night trains

The biggest cut in deDecker was the opening of the high-speed line between Barcelona and France in December 2013. Since then he has come to Paris twice a day by TGV in six and a half hours, but at the same time the night train between the two cities has been abolished. He now sits on the train all day on trips to his Belgian home, says de Decker, where he used to travel comfortably in a sleeping car. "And I'm paying more for that now."

The Spanish railway company Renfe also canceled the night trains from Barcelona to Milan and Geneva. To get to Switzerland and further to Central Europe and Italy, he had to change trains several times today and combine several express trains and regional trains, de Decker reports. "It didn't make these trips any faster for me, just more expensive, more complicated and less reliable." Because there are no continuous connections, the new route has hardly accelerated the journey from Spain to Germany.