Rail travel on select UK domestic routes almost 17 times greener than flying

Travelling by train on six UK business routes is up to 80 per cent cheaper – and up to 17 times ‘greener’ – than flying, according to a new report from the Rail Delivery Group.

The membership organisation which works on behalf of the rail industry also found on four of the six domestic routes examined that travelling by plane takes longer than by train when calculating the total time taken from city centre to city centre.

The six domestic routes: London-Glasgow, London-Edinburgh, London-Manchester, Manchester-Aberdeen, London-Newcastle and Exeter-Edinburgh all offer both trains and flights, which RDG said provides a ‘fair’ comparison of costs, carbon emissions and availability of services.

The research is the latest phase of RDG’s Green Travel Pledge which aims to encourage businesses to accelerate their modal shift from air and car journeys to rail wherever possible, and follows a recent report that compared rail and car emissions on 100 routes across the UK.

The cost comparison examined return fares on trips booked seven weeks in advance (departing on 27 May 2024 and returning on 31 May 2024) and found rail was the cheaper option on all six routes, when accounting for the additional cost of baggage and seat allocations on flights as well as minicab airport transfers to the city centre. 

In terms of Co2 emissions related to travel, rail was between 7 and 17 times greener on four routes according to Green Travel Pledge emissions data, which considers engine type, fuel type, journey distance, occupancy and carriage layout and was developed in partnership with Thrust Carbon, 3Squared and Black Box Partnerships.

Source: RDG Green Travel Pledge
Source: RDG Green Travel Pledge

Green Travel Pledge emissions data is “currently unavailable” for Exeter-Edinburgh and Manchester-Aberdeen routes, according to RDG.

Where city-to-city travel time is concerned, flights were quicker on only two routes: Manchester-Aberdeen, where total journey time by plane is 56 mins faster, and Exeter-Edinburgh, where total journey time is two hours and 42 minutes quicker by plane.

Jacqueline Starr, CEO at Rail Delivery Group, said: “For too long, the narrative has been that flying domestically is cheaper and faster. However, when you do a true cost comparison, rail travel is considerably cheaper.

“Rail travel offers a more affordable, sustainable, and convenient way to travel. Our research highlights the many advantages that rail travel offers to our customers when travelling within Britain.”

The new air-to-rail comparison data is available to global and domestic travel management companies and online booking tools via RDG’s Rail Data Marketplace. RDG aims to release carbon emissions data for all point-to-point rail travel across the UK later this year.

The environmental benefits of rail travel are clear but shifting business travellers from planes to trains is easier said than done. Read BTN Europe’s recent report on rail-first travel mandates for more. 

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