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Climate change has Dr David Nicholl thinking about alternatives to flying. So how is the inter city service between Birmingham and Madrid.

Usually about once a year, I attend a major international neurology meeting. It is the best way to network, learn and meet up with colleagues in a number of research projects.

However, the increasing concerns about climate change have been playing on mind. How can I justify long-distance travel to medical conferences when it is very clear they significant effect that such flights have on CO2 emissions?

Is it not a bit hypocritical to go to a medical conference to learn, when we have already learnt that climate change is already having an effect on health? As ever, there is a simple yes-no answer on this, but it does make one think about the alternatives?

I am trying to limit the number of flights I take, but am not being a complete zealot - try visiting your elderly parents in Belfast at weekend without using a plane, it just isn’t feasible.

Nonetheless, last year I made sure I went to a meeting on the Eastern seaboard of the US rather than the West coast, and have reduced the number of meetings I attend compared to 5 years ago.

How to crack Europe this year was the challenge?

I had an offer of a trip to the European Federation of Neurological Societies meeting. I phased the organiser, yes I would like to go, but I wouldn’t go by plane- yer what? So on August bank holiday, I set off by train to…Madrid.

OK, curiosity as well as the environment was at the back of my mind. Was it feasible, what it would be like, and lets face it, would I be stuck all night with some swarthy Carlos the Jackal on a slow sleeper to Spain?

I got the 11am train from New Street and was soon at Euston, a hop on the tube for 1 stop to St Pancras and then the sight of the fantastic new Eurostar terminal which is an architectural wonder.

Before I knew it I was in Paris and took the taxi across town to Gare du Austerlitz. I then had a pleasant hour to kill so had a nice meal and joined the overnight sleeper to Madrid. Much to my pleasant surprise, there were no axe wielding maniacs sharing my sleeper. Indeed the train is well-named as the hotel tren (hotel train), there is even a keycard to make sure your room is secure.

I travelled second class, there was no shower, but a perfectly adequate sink with hot water and electric. The train does rattle somewhat, so I slept OK, I slept much better on the return journey after I found the handily provided ear plugs.

The restaurant car was amazing, I had the most beautiful view in the morning North of Madrid as the sun rose, it felt like a Spaghetti Western with Lee Van Cleef about to board the train on horseback.

Dinner in the evening was equally brilliant, not some bog standard sandwich on Virgin trains but a delicious Swordfish stake with some Rioja as we sped across Spain.

On the return journey, the train was delayed into Paris, so I had to sprint across to Gare du Nord and this is where the Eurostar showed its own compared to any airport. I entered Gare du Nord at 10.02am, in less than 10 minutes I managed to clear Passport control and security and make the 10.13am train to London….a little sweaty and out of breath, but I was then able to get a connecting train and get to my desk at City Hospital by 2pm, not bad!

Quite simply is there any reason to fly from Birmingham to Paris when the Eurostar is just so brilliant, Madrid might be a little too far, but sometimes its not where you are going but how you travel.

The time on the train enabled me to catch up on a stack of work and also get ready for the most important interview of my life (more on that in a few weeks dear friends!).

Oh the cost, 350 return, not bad I feel bearing in mind you skip on 2 nights hotel accommodation potentially. The real joy was suddenly to remember what travel was like some years ago.pleasurable and also to remember why people nickname flying economy cattle-class for good reason!

Would I do it again? Yes, travel should be pleasurable, and lets face it, airports now are about as pleasant as having a dental extraction.


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