In a report, Plane speaking: Moving journeys from air to rail, published by the Campaign for Better Transport (CBT) in July 2023, it was revealed that when comparing the top 23 domestic and near-Europe flight routes substitutable by rail, modal shift from air to rail is already feasible:
"On three fifths of the routes travelling by train on the lowest price ticket was cheaper or there was no significant price difference."
"When accounting for travel to and from the airport, pre-departure checks and passport control, the train is faster than the flight the majority (70%) of the time."
For example, the report shows that flying from Edinburgh to London Heathrow costs between £60 and £300 by air versus £24.90 to £145.70 by rail.
Taking into account travel time to the station or the airport and airport security and check-in procedures, the train journey can be accomplished 20 mins quicker than flying. On shorter journeys the time-saving becomes progressively greater. CO2 emissions per passenger are 132.35kg by plane, and 14.53kg by train.
CBT has issued a challenge to the UK Government in its Fewer Flights Charter which calls on the Government to:
CBT spokesman Silviya Barrett said, "Travelling by rail within the UK and to the near continent is much more environmentally friendly than flying but also, as our report proves, in many cases cheaper, faster and more economically productive. Yet people simply aren't aware that this is the case.
"To help incentivise train travel more and reduce carbon emissions from transport, we need to see government policies which ensure rail is always the easier and cheaper option so that more people can choose the train over the plane."
This is a very welcome campaign, but from the point of view of Far North Line users, the recent announcement of a 29.5% increase year-on-year in passengers flying between Wick and Aberdeen between April and June points up very effectively the difficulty of achieving modal shift to rail in our comparatively remote location. Many travellers have far to go and the FNL was not built for speed. The lack of investment to change this, from the missed opportunity in the 1980s to include rail in the Dornoch Bridge, to the 20-25 min slowdown of 2005 which has become permanent, has left us with a service running at an average speed of around 40 mph. Wick to Aberdeen by train takes around 7 hrs and the trainline.com website rather perversely gives the distance as the crow flies - 97 miles - it's over 250 miles by train!