|Air and Rail|
Air and Rail: Setting the Record Straight
- environment, investment, mobility and political bias
New ERA study, based on research carried out by independent bodies, is now available. Click here for more details.
While uninformed debate often suggests that passenger journeys up to 1000 km should, or could, in future be met by rail services, this would require a massive investment in high-speed rail (HSR) services to small communities, an exercise which would clearly be both economically unjustifiable and unaffordable without substantial additional taxation.
A recent (2010) EUROCONTROL study examined the impact of expanding the HSR network to link all major city-pairs of less than 500 km currently connected by at least 10 flights a day. It concluded that it would lead to a reduction of just 4.2%-4.9% in demand for flights by 2030. Achieving this type of expansion of the rail network would mean a 600% increase in the HSR network compared to current expansion plans to only achieve a very modest modal shift. The economic case for such expansion, leaving aside the other challenges such as financing and environmental impact, would be difficult to justify.
Air Travel Restriction May Increase Environmental Pollution
A restriction on air travel to and from Europe's regions, whether by regulatory constraint, infrastructure constraints or punitive taxation, will rarely result in additional travel by high-speed rail. In terms of intra-EU passenger transport, air has captured a market share rising from 6.5% in 1995 to 7.3% in 1999 and 8.0% in 2009 compared to a rail industry which has decreased from 6.6% in 1995 to 6.2% in 2009. The main alternatives are standard rail services or private cars. In general, travel by private car is increasing at the expense of standard rail services. Consequently, any restriction on air services to Europe's regions is likely to lead to an increase in the use of less environmentally attractive private cars.
Moving passengers away from conventional express passenger trains to HSR will have a much higher carbon footprint. For example, HSR CO2 emissions on the UK London-Manchester corridor are expected to be 35-40% higher than emissions from conventional rail lines for the same quantity of passenger-kilometre. Reductions in journey times of 25% would lead to an increase in energy consumption of 90%.
In addition, a reduction or cessation of regional air services would increase the unacceptable "excessive isolation of Europe's regions".
ERA Welcomes Expansion of High-Speed Rail
Notwithstanding the fact that air transport serving Europe's regions is not substitutable by rail services, the expansion of HSR and additional linkage between HSR and regional air services (increasing the opportunities for "co-modality" between rail and air) is welcomed by ERA. The attractiveness of intermodality requires considerable improvement with regards to many elements, namely price, journey time, schedule coordination, seamless security checks, compatibility of IT infrastructure and booking systems, air/rail coordination in case of missed connections, passenger rights, frequencies of trains for efficient and short connecting times between both air and rail modes . As and when consumer demand forces these changes, they will happen; in the meantime regulatory intervention will achieve little.
Level Playing Field Required
This is subject to the condition that HSR services compete with commercial air services on a "level playing field". In particular, there should be equality of taxation, subsidies, and infrastructure cost recovery - these must be considered together to understand the financial relationship between transport operators and governments. Similarly, where journeys by sea are an alternative to air travel, shipping companies and airlines should be subject to equivalent legislation.