Big shift from air to rail travel between Central Scotland and London over past decade leads to significant carbon savings
Tue 22 Aug 2017 – As a result of a rise in growth of rail’s market share for trips between Central Scotland and London between 2005 and 2015 at the expense of air travel, 681,064 tonnes of carbon emissions were saved over the period, finds a study by sustainable transport campaign group Transform Scotland. Over the decade, the market share for rail journeys on routes between London and Scotland’s two biggest cities, Edinburgh and Glasgow, grew from 20% to 33%. As a result of a £9 billion ($11.5bn) investment in infrastructure, new trains and increased frequency, growth has been particularly strong on the West Coast route linking Glasgow and London, where 332,208 tonnes of emissions were saved as a result of people switching from air to rail. The report recommends further rail investment and more government leadership in setting targets and use of the tax system to encourage further modal shift.
Despite encouraging progress in its overall climate target to reduce long-term CO2 emissions, the Scottish transport sector has proved resistant to the challenge, says the report. With emissions having barely fallen since 1990, it has recently overtaken other sectors to become the country’s largest source of emissions. Despite the number of people travelling between Central Scotland and London roughly doubling over the past two decades, this is one area of progress to come from the shift from air to train, says Transform Scotland.
The 681,064 tonnes of CO2 savings between 2005 and 2015 as a result of the shift is equivalent to removing all road traffic on the busy Glasgow-Edinburgh motorway for two years, it estimates.
The report claims rail travel is around five times greener than air, with the average annual electricity use of one household equivalent to nine flights or 49 rail journeys on the Central Scotland to London route – a distance of roughly 400 miles (640km). The calculation is based on CO2 emissions per passenger of 177kg by plane, compared with 34kg by high-speed train. New Azuma trains to be introduced on the Edinburgh-London East Coast route in 2018 are expected to bring this down to 28kg.
The rail operator on this route, Virgin East Coast, plans to increase its market share from 34% to 50% by 2023. Assuming a continued annual growth of 2% in the rail and travel market achieved from 2005 to 2015, the study estimates a further saving of 325,713 tonnes of CO2. If similar market share ambition was deployed on the Glasgow-London route, operated by Virgin West Coast, then overall emission savings between Central Scotland and London during the 2016-2023 period would total 586,942 tonnes.
“For Scotland to meet its challenging climate targets, it is imperative that further action be taken to ensure that rail can grow to at least a 50% market share of the Scotland-London travel market over the next decade,” said Transform Scotland’s Director, Colin Howden. “In order to continue this positive trend in a switch to rail, we need to see increased investment in the rail network, government taking the lead and encouraging public bodies to use the train rather than flying to London, and a fairer taxation system for Anglo-Scottish travel.”
In June, members of the Scottish parliament voted overwhelmingly to replace the UK’s controversial Air Passenger Duty with a new devolved Air Departure Tax from April 2018. The Scottish government wants to cut the new tax by 50%, before eventually scrapping it completely, which it argues would boost the economy by increasing the number of flights to and from the country and so enhance business connectivity and tourism, reported the BBC.
However, the report recommends the tax system should be used to encourage modal shift from air to rail rather than incentivising air travel by reducing the departure tax rates on domestic routes.
“The Scottish government has set some of the toughest climate change targets for the people of Scotland. I am therefore delighted to hear of the increase in the use of our railway, as it is a fundamental part of achieving our greener transport aspirations,” commented Scotland’s transport minister Humza Yousaf, who welcomed the report.
The report was supported in its preparation by Virgin Trains. Virgin Atlantic subsidiary Little Red launched air routes between London Heathrow and Scottish airports, including Edinburgh, in 2012 but ceased operations in 2015 following low passenger numbers. Having taken over BMI, its only other competitor, in 2012 British Airways now holds the monopoly on flights from Heathrow to Glasgow and Edinburgh, although low-cost airlines easyJet and Ryanair serve the two Scottish destinations from other London airports.