High-speed rail planning could reduce flight demand
The committee’s chief said that the 60% increase in flight demand was already due to the climate goal of reducing carbon emissions by 80% between now and 2050. If a second runway is added to the ones already being discussed for Heathrow and Gatwick and if price increases up to PS200 are not implemented, this target will be missed.
All but one of the ten most popular air routes are domestic flights. In the past 20 years, short-haul air travel has become more common. This has come with a cost:
High-speed rail, the only form of transportation that can compete with the time it takes to fly, is gaining in popularity. Over 21,000km of high-speed lines are in operation around the globe, and another 30,000km is either being built or planned. There is an easy solution to reduce the negative effects of aviation. Shift short-haul passengers to trains. Air-rail partnerships could make it possible.
Rail Roll out
Air-rail partnerships have been used by a few airlines, such as Lufthansa, for many years. But they could be used much more. It’s not difficult to understand. The high-speed train has carriages reserved for airline passengers. The same ticketing system is used, and passengers can still check in at the station they started from. Airline fuel costs are reduced, airport capacity is increased, and rail operators gain from the extra demand.
In the UK, this potential is demonstrated. Plans for a high-speed line linking London to the north of England are currently in the final stages of consultation. The government has justified the decision despite considerable opposition to the scheme. It has highlighted the economic advantages of the railway. The debate hasn’t included the possibility of air-rail partnerships that could reduce flight demand.
In the UK, air-rail partnerships will likely be successful as many passengers transfer from domestic flights to long-haul flights at London Heathrow. One of the best examples is the short flight between London Heathrow and Leeds Bradford . Although it is faster to take the high-speed line, passengers who are using this flight as a connection to other flights at Heathrow will not switch to high-speed trains. The cost of their ticket is barely increased when they fly, so airlines are using this to attract long-haul passengers. Air-rail partnerships allow the airline to retain this connection and ensure that passengers are moved from high speed rail under their control, while still buying their tickets.
These partnerships also benefit airports, as they free up runway capacity while passengers continue to use the airport’s services and connect to other flights. According to Transport 2000, Heathrow could handle 19% of the estimated 23% of total airport traffic, which a new terminal would have carried.
Similar benefits can be observed on flights between cities around the world. Air-rail partnerships have great potential on some of the busiest routes. Sao Paulo to Rio de Janeiro is a prime example of this. High-speed rail travel would be quicker than air travel. This could result in huge carbon savings between 75% and 97%, depending on future aircraft efficiency and travel demand.
It is not possible to use this mechanism on all routes. A high-speed rail route between Mumbai and New Delhi, for example, would not offer competitive travel times. And a switch from flying could result in a 320% increase in CO2 emissions. The reason for this is that the electricity grid powers high-speed trains – unlike coal-fired power stations, which overwhelmingly meet Brazil’s largely hydroelectric-powered grid and India’s electricity demands. India’s electricity generation networks may be able to reduce their carbon footprint in the future, but it will have to be a significant improvement.
Cooperative air-rail partnerships and increased deployment of high-speed rail networks have great potential to reduce the environmental impact of aviation, lower airline fuel costs, and release airport capacity in most cases. To be most effective, the schemes must be integrated from the beginning into the planning of new high-speed rail routes. To achieve this, airlines, rail operators, and governments must realize their potential and develop a relationship of collaboration rather than competition.