UK flights cheaper than trains despite producing six times more carbon emissions, research finds

Train fares 49 per cent higher than air fares according to Which? study

Helen Coffey@LenniCoffey
Wednesday 14 July 2021 10:41
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Domestic flights were found to often be cheaper than train travel in the UK, despite their carbon emissions being six times higher, according to a new piece of research.

According to snapshot research conducted by Which?, travellers looking to cut their carbon footprint by swapping plane for train face a hefty penalty.

The consumer champion found that rail fares were, on average, 49 per cent more expensive than the same journey by plane.

Which? looked at 10 UK routes departing between 3 and 8 August and compared the two modes of transport in terms of both price and carbon footprint.

Eight of the 10 were cheaper when flying.

The biggest fare difference was on a Birmingham to Newquay route – a return flight cost £67 while the train was priced at £180.

Meanwhile, the air travel option was calculated to produce nearly six times (5.7) the amount of CO2e emissions: 156kg per person compared to just 27kg by train. CO2e, the standard measure for flight emissions, refers to CO2 “equivalent” emissions, and also takes into account other greenhouse gases with warming effects that are produced when we fly.

For the Bristol to Newcastle return, flying was found to produce more than six times the amount of CO2e emissions per traveller, at 203kg versus 33kg.

But again, passengers are rewarded when they book a flight, with the lowest fares almost half that of the rail equivalent (£87 compared to £172).

With international travel having been severely curtailed by the pandemic, a number of airlines have upped their domestic offering this year.

For example, easyJet has recently launched services from Birmingham and Inverness to Newquay.

Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel, said the research made him “angry”.

“Our research found UK domestic flights six times worse for CO2e than the train. But flights are much cheaper,” he said.

“Yet the government plans to cut tax on domestic flights making them cheaper still.

“We can’t carry on like this.”

Despite the government’s promises to drastically cut emissions, it has proposed cutting air passenger duty tax (APD) on domestic flights; meanwhile rail fares rose by 2.6 per cent this year.

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