Train trips in the UK are on average 50 per cent more expensive than flying on the same routes, forcing travellers to choose between price and the environment, a new study has found.
Taking the train is more expensive on eight of the 10 most popular routes across the UK, according to research by consumer organisation Which?.
The biggest price difference was in a plane fare between Birmingham and Newquay, at £67, and a train ticket at £180, more than 2.5 times as expensive. However, travelling by train would emit just a fifth of the carbon emissions that would be produced by flying on that route, the consumer outlet said.
Airlines have launched dozens of new domestic routes this year, in response to growing demand for UK holidays.
“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,” said Rory Boland, travel editor at Which?.
The figures come as the Government launched its plan to decarbonise transport, including a commitment to net zero domestic aviation emissions by 2040.
But the Government faced criticism for cutting air passenger duty on domestic flights and increasing rail fares by 2.6 per cent earlier this year, the first rise above inflation since 2013.
Its climate change advisers, the Climate Change Committee (CCC), and aviation industry experts say its "jet zero" plan relies too optimistically on technological innovation, and will need to reduce demand growth to cut emissions in the next 20 years.
The CCC has called for taxes on aviation to ensure train journeys on the same route are always cheaper, and a halt to increased airport capacity in the UK.
It has also said the Government will need to proactively encourage people to return to public transport in the wake of the pandemic, which has caused rail passenger numbers to plummet.
Critics of the Government’s approach can point to the example of France, which will ban domestic flights when the route can be completed by train in less than 2.5 hours, a move made easier by France’s relatively extensive high-speed rail network.
On Wednesday, Brussels will also unveil plans for a tax on aviation kerosene fuel across the European Union, which is likely to drive up the cost of flights.
Britain is under pressure to act over its aviation emissions, which accounted for seven per cent of its total before the pandemic, as it prepares to host the international climate summit Cop26 later this year in Glasgow.
Boris Johnson was himself forced to defend his decision to fly from London to Cornwall for last month’s G7 meeting, saying the UK was “the lead in developing sustainable aviation fuel”.
The London to Newquay train journey was cheaper than travelling by plane, by £26, as was the Newcastle to Southampton route, by £58, Which? found. It said train routes often took significantly longer, though it did not factor in travel to and from the airport, or time spent checking in and waiting to board.
The smallest price difference was Edinburgh to London, with the train costing just £7 extra.
All routes were checked a minimum of 31 days in advance. Mr Boland said there were steps people could take to reduce the cost of train travel.
Train trips are on average 50 per cent more expensive than flying
“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,” Mr Boland said. “You may be able to make further savings by checking if split-ticketing is an option on your chosen route.”
Matt Finch, UK policy manager at the NGO Transport & Environment, said: "Aviation is the most carbon-intensive form of transport. Part of the reason why ticket prices are kept so low is that the industry pays no duty on the fuel it burns. The UK wants to be a net zero nation, so polluters will need to pay their fair share of taxes."
"The UK’s aviation industry needs to face up to its emissions addiction. There is a way to break this though. Hydrogen and electric planes are coming, and the Government should do all that it can to encourage these, including by banning fossil-fuelled domestic flights from 2040."