Sweden's rail travel jumps with some help from 'flight shaming'

Sweden’s rail passenger traffic jumps by 11 per cent – with some help from ‘flight shaming’

  • Spike caused by a ‘push from the environmental aspects’ rail chiefs said 
  • ‘Flight shaming’ movement calls for travellers to significantly reduce air travel 
  • Swedish and German governments pledging billions of rail network investment 

Swedish state-owned railway operator SJ reported an 11 per cent rise in 2019 passenger traffic, saying concerns over the environmental impact of air travel have contributed to the spike.

The Swedish-born movement of ‘flight shaming’ – or ‘flygskam’ in its native tongue – calls for curbs to air travel due to its environmental impact, and has gained prominence over the past year. 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.

State-owned railway chiefs in Sweden have reported a spike in passenger traffic due to travellers becoming more aware of the environmental impact of air travel


Flygskam – or flight shaming – originated in Sweden in 2017 when singer Staffan Lindberg pledged to give up flying.

The movement gathered pace when teenage environmental activist Greta Thunberg sailed across the Atlantic instead of flying in 2019 and backed the campaign.

A survey carried out by Swiss bank UBS said that one-in-five people asked in several European countries said that they had decreased the number of flights they took in the previous year due to environmental concerns.  

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

Last month, Sweden’s state-owned airport operator Swedavia reported a four per cent 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 2.5million to 34.3million. Fritzson added that 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. 

Dutch rail operator NS has reported a 13 per cent 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 per cent increase in passenger traffic in 2019.

SJ said earlier last year it would invest 12 billion Swedish Krona (£949million) in new trains in the coming years, while Deutsche Bahn and the German government last month agreed to invest 86 billion Euros (£71billion) over the next 10 years to upgrade its rail network.

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