Train fares on popular UK routes are 50% more expensive than plane fares despite rail journeys causing 80% lower carbon dioxide emissions, according to analysis by the consumer group Which?.
It said passengers face a “near impossible” choice between low ticket prices and climate-friendly travel. More people are taking holidays in the UK due to coronavirus and airlines have launched dozens of new domestic routes.
The Which? study examined 10 routes within the UK and found that eight were cheaper by plane. The biggest price difference was from Birmingham to Newquay where the return plane fare was £67 and the train fare was £180.
The train fare from Bristol to Newcastle also cost more than double the air ticket. This route had the biggest difference in CO2 emissions, with the return plane journey resulting in 203kg of CO2 per person, compared with 33kg for the train.
“As the pandemic continues to cause uncertainty for international travel, many of us are taking holidays closer to home this year,” said Rory Boland, the travel editor at Which? “Travellers who choose to take the train face significantly higher fares and journey times, putting those who want to lessen their environmental impact at a disadvantage.”
The emissions of the aviation industry are coming under increasing scrutiny as the climate crisis worsens. The EU is expected this week to announce plans for a levy on jet fuel, which unlike road fuels has not been liable for duty.
Campaigners have intensified calls for a frequent-flyer tax in the UK, where only 15% of people take 70% of all flights. EasyJet was criticised by green activists in June for launching a dozen new domestic routes, including Birmingham to Newquay, which is less than 200 miles. Other campaigners have called for taxes on “soaring” private jet use to generate funds to invest in greener flying.
The UK aviation industry announced its carbon targets in June, but these allow emissions from planes to increase into the mid-2030s. It says buying carbon offsets will result in overall emissions falling compared with 2019 levels.
The government proposed in March to cut air passenger duty tax on domestic flights at the same time as increasing rail fares by 2.6%, more than the rate of inflation. Ministers have yet to publish their climate strategy for aviation.
The Which? analysis compared the costs of plane and train journeys between 5 and 8 August when booked at least a month in advance. Journeys from Bournemouth to Edinburgh and from Manchester to Newquay were significantly more expensive by train. The trip from London to Newquay was one of the two journeys out of the 10 assessed that was cheaper by train.
“There are steps that people can take to reduce the cost of travelling by train,” said Boland. “Take the time to compare dates and times to see if cheaper fares are available, and look into what railcards you might be eligible for to save up to a third on train travel. You may be able to make further savings by checking if split-ticketing is an option on your chosen route.”