Michael McCarthy: The express? More like a crawl to Copenhagen

Sketch: The boss of French railways, SNCF, was prompted to exclaim: "C'est lepremier happening ferroviaire!"

Share
Related Topics

It was worthy. It was green. In fact, it was carbon-neutral. But it was a tad on the slow side.

The Climate Express, a special one-off train put together by the combined efforts of Europe's railways, took environmental campaigners from all over the continent to Copenhagen at the weekend, for the UN climate conference which begins this morning – and your correspondent joined them.

There is no high-speed continuous rail link to the Danish capital from Brussels, where the journey began, so the UIC, the Paris-based International Rail Union, had spent a year organising a special through-service for the 1,133km journey via three different countries (Belgium, Germany and Denmark) with three different rail systems.

Leaving Platform 3 of Brussels Midi station at 9:12am on Saturday, and decorated with environmental logos and a broad green stripe along the side, the Climate Express rattled along via Cologne and Hamburg, and saved huge amounts of carbon compared to travelling by road, or even more if you compared it to flying. But it was 11pm before we pulled into Copenhagen Central.

The intervening 14 hours – the flight would have been less than two – became a cheerful celebration of the growing alliance between environmentalists and railwaymen, who clearly see their interests entwined.

From the rail side there were more Big Cheeses on board than you could wave a red flag at, including the heads of German, Belgian, Spanish, Italian, Japanese and French Railways, as well as Jean-Pierre Loubinoux, who as head of the UIC is officially the world's Top Railway Geezer, while from Britain we had Richard Brown, the green-minded chief executive of Eurostar, who had done his bit for the cause by whisking the British Ecopassengers, as we were politely referred to in all announcements – Dear Ecopassengers! – free of charge to Brussels the night before.

From the environmental side there were campaigners from Friends of the Earth, the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) and various other groups, a bunch of young climate champions brought by the British Council, the green film-makers Franny Armstrong and Lizzie Gillett who made The Age of Stupid about climate change, Betrand Piccard who is trying to fly around the world using only solar power, and luminaries such as Achim Steiner, director of the United Nations Environment Programme and Professor Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, deputy head of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The donnish Professor Van Ypersele symbolised the union of interests by donning a Belgian railwayman's cap and blowing the whistle for the train to depart so loudly that some people jumped and Guillaume Pepy, the boss of French railways, SNCF, was prompted to exclaim: "C'est le premier happening ferroviaire!" ("It's the first railway happening!")

The happening continued with the handing over of the People's Orb, a football-sized symbolic aluminium ball containing electronic petitions with several million signatures demanding action on climate change, to Achim Steiner to take to the conference. It had been lugged from London by Jo Sargent, one the WWF press officers – a heavy responsibility.

If you had anything of the railway buff in you it was very pleasant to be rolling through the north European countryside on what was a great cause, although as the trip was packed with events in special conference carriages, much of the time was spent standing up, and the 14 hours of rockin' and rollin' on the railway left me swaying like an old seadog.

But even my alarming discovery that Danish hotel rooms have sloping floors was not enough to dampen my pride at having ridden the one and only Climate Express to Copenhagen – the greenest train that ever was.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: New Lift Sales Executive - Lift and Elevators

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A challenging opportunity for a...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service / Receptionist

£14000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Cameron and Miliband went head-to-head in the live televised debate last night  

The Battle for Number 10: Great TV but not an interview for the job of prime minister

Alice Jones
Durham Free School, which has already been ordered to close, has been accused of harbouring  

From creationism and bullying to reading abilities that go backwards, free schools are a complete and utter failure

Tristram Hunt
The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss