A Level Playing Field for Comparing Air and Rail Travel Times

Thomas Sauter-Servaes1, *, Thomas Krautscheid2, Alexander Schober3
1 ZHAW Zurich University of Applied Sciences, School of Engineering, Programme Director Transportation Systems, Winterthur, Switzerland
2 Quotas GmbH, Department Transport & Environment, Head of Department Transport & Environment, Hamburg, Germany
3 Alexander Schober, Quotas GmbH, Department Transport & Environment, Consultant, Hamburg, Germany

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Creative Commons License
© 2019 Sauter-Servaes et al.

open-access license: This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License (CC-BY 4.0), a copy of which is available at: ( This license permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

* Address correspondence to this author at the ZHAW Zurich University of Applied Sciences, School of Engineering, Programme Director Transportation systems, Winterthur, Switzerland; Tel: +41589347177;



Shifting travellers from air to rail can reduce environmental impacts and is an important European Union goal. Online travel planning applications allow travellers to easily compare air and rail transport choices, however, they may not accurately consider time that travellers spend at the airport or railway station since these depend on buffer times travellers use to protect against delays.


This research investigated the actual time spent at airports and railway stations to analyse the accuracy of travel planning applications and helps improve the quality of travel time estimates. The research used a travel time recording application to determine the time spent by passengers at airports and railway stations. The data was collected for 312 trips. The research was supplemented by an extensive literature review of dwell times and multimodal travel planning applications.


The research found that travellers spent an average of 157 minutes at airports and 32 minutes at railway stations. Comparing these results to travel planning application, the information shows that the applications significantly underestimate time spent at airports and slightly underestimate time spent at railway stations. The use of unrealistic airport waiting times in travel planning applications distorts traveller perception in favour of air travel.


Therefore, railway operators should support the development of improved travel planning applications that better consider waiting times. Improving these applications would be much more cost effective than infrastructure improvements designed to save a few minutes of travel time.

Keywords: Travel time, High-speed rail, Air transport, Airport waiting time, Travel planning, Rail transport.