As we are nearing the one-year mark of the beginning of the coronavirus, and over eight months since it was declared a worldwide pandemic, many of our travel plans have been put on hold, hoping for the risk of the virus to dissipate before we take the vacation we planned last winter. While traveling using any mode of transportation during this time carries different risks of varying degrees, traveling by train seems like a reasonably safe way to go – but what exactly are the risks, and what factors increase your chance of contracting the virus through train travel?
Keep the distance
We have heard this over and over when it comes to preventing the spread of the virus: Keep a distance from other people and avoid crowded areas. It is no surprise that this same rule applies to train travel as well. A study published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases observed a high-speed train in China with 75,000 passengers aboard to see what factors contributed to faster and easier transmission of the virus among passengers.
The study showed that sitting across from a person infected with COVID-19 gives you a much higher chance of being infected than if you were to sit next to someone who is infected – even with a mask on. There is a 3.5% chance of transmission by sitting across from an ill person compared to the 1.5% chance you would have if you sat in the same row as someone who is infected. Although masks do provide a great amount of protection against the virus, it is also true that the space between you and an infected person is vital in keeping you virus-free. Next time you are booking a train ticket, it would not be a bad idea to find a seat where you are not facing anyone, but rather have the pleasure of looking at the back of someone else’s chair.
Although it would be easy to assume that distance and mask-wearing are the biggest factors when it comes to preventing the spread of the coronavirus, researchers found that it is not all about who you sit next to, but also how long your journey on the train is. Due to the lack of proper airflow, the amount of time you breathe the stagnant air that could have been contaminated by droplets from an infected person in the same car as you also plays a major role in your safety. The same study mentioned earlier found that the risk increased by 0.15% for every hour spent on the train. If you are sitting adjacent to someone, your risk increased by a whopping 1.3% per hour. That means that if you are on a train, sitting across from someone for six to eight hours, your chance of being infected could balloon up to 10.3%.
If you do decide to travel by train, be sure to keep your trip as short as possible, as the longer the trip, the larger the risk.
Virus on surfaces and basic hygiene
If one of your concerns while stepping on the train is if the seat you are sitting in was once occupied by a coronavirus patient – don’t fret. The chances that you can contract the virus from inanimate objects is fairly low, although it wouldn’t be a bad idea to wipe down your seating area with disinfectant wipes to reduce the risk.
No matter the public place you are in, researchers urge people to maintain basic hygiene, mainly through frequent hand washing and avoiding touching your face or eyes. This step will be vital during your train travel.
Train or plane?
So it all boils down to one important question: Is it safer to take a plane or a train when traveling during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Although you may wish there was a clear answer, there really isn’t. Planes have impeccable air filtration systems that reduce the risk of the virus lingering in the air, but trains also tend to be much more spacious, giving you plenty of room to keep an appropriate distance from others. While no one can be certain which mode of transportation is safest during the COVID-19 pandemic, experts are certain about one thing – the average rate of transmission of the coronavirus on board a train is just 0.32%, making it a fairly safe option for your next trip if all measures are taken.