The train takes the battle to the plane

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Eurostar targets the green market

Rail chiefs yesterday laid down the gauntlet to the airline industry. As part of an increasingly bitter commercial dogfight between the two modes of transport, Eurostar boasted that it was set to capture a large chunk of the European market from the likes of British Airways and the budget carriers.

Eurostar's declaration of war came as it revealed it would begin operating along the full length of the £5.8bn Channel Tunnel Rail Link (CTRL) in a year's time. No longer will the 186mph trains have to slow to walking pace as they join the traditional railway through south-east London into Waterloo. From 14 November 2007, Eurostar trains will run on a dedicated high-speed line all the way into London St Pancras.

This will cut the London to Paris journey time to around 2 hrs 15 mins, London-Brussels to 1 hr 51 mins and London-Lille to 1 hr 20 mins. From the new station at Ebbsfleet near the Dartford Bridge on the M25, the journey times will be about 10 minutes less.

This will connect with a burgeoning high-speed railway network throughout Europe with a line set to be opened between Paris and Strasbourg next summer and another between Brussels and Amsterdam in 2008.

From now on, CTRL will be called "High Speed 1" - indicating hopes that "High Speed 2" could be a north-south link, which would attract even more passengers away from the airlines.

Richard Brown, Eurostar's chief executive, was also keen to emphasise the relatively small impact Eurostar trains will have on the environment. Research commissioned by the company showed that flying between London and Paris or Brussels generates 10 times more carbon dioxide emissions than a Eurostar.

Mr Brown said the figures "gave the lie" to an argument put forward by Willie Walsh, the chief executive of British Airways, that protecting the environment was incompatible with economic growth.

"I'm surprised he said that. It's plainly wrong," Mr Brown said. "City investors are investing in green companies. It's one of the fastest growing sectors. They wouldn't be doing that if there was no potential for growth.

"Taking the train, not the plane, for travel to Europe is one of the key ways we can all reduce our impact on climate change."

EasyJet in $4bn order for Airbus jets

By Michael Harrison, Business Editor

The no-frills airline easyJet yesterday unveiled an order for 52 new Airbus jets worth $4bn (£2.1bn) at list prices and immediately rejected claims that the meteoric growth of low-cost travel was one of the main causes of global warming.

Andy Harrison, the company;s chief executive, described claims that aviation was the fastest growing source of carbon emissions as "alarmist crap" and argued that budget airlines such as easyJet, with their young and fuel-efficient fleets, were "the solution to climate change, not part of the problem".

Mr Harrison said that he endorsed the Stern report into the economics of climate change even though his counterpart at the rival budget carrier Ryanair, Michael O'Leary, has dismissed it as "some report from an idiot economist".

He said Stern calculated that aviation's share of carbon emissions would still only reach 2.5 per cent globally in 2050.

"What we need is intelligent debate, not knee-jerk reaction. I can only assume Mr O'Leary has not read the report," he added.

EasyJet also backs the inclusion of aviation in the European Union's emissions trading scheme although it wants the scheme to apply to airlines outside the EU which fly into Europe.

The latest aircraft order will increase the size of easyJet's fleet from 122 jets to 174. In total it has 104 jets on order from Airbus and options on a further 123 and expects to almost double passenger numbers from the 33 million carried last year to around 60 million by 2010-11.

Mr Harrison claimed that because the average age of the fleet was little more than two years, it produced 30 per cent fewer emissions per seat than British Airways.

"We are the Smart car of low-cost air travel. Aviation is a major wealth generator and slowing down its growth would produce a huge economic loss."

EasyJet reported a 56 per cent increase in annual profits to £129m fuelled by a 6 per cent rise in average fares and strong growth in ancillary revenues such as car hire,hotel fees and hold baggage charges.

But its operating margins are only half those of Ryanair which makes £5.50 profit on each passenger compared with easyJet's £3.32.