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UK's Airline Industry Rejects Rail Plans

August 5, 2009 By: Jena Tesse Fox


Perhaps not surprisingly, the airline industry has dismissed a government pledge to replace domestic and short-haul aviation with high-speed rail, with one leading carrier describing the move as an "insane" policy, The Guardian is reporting.

The backlash came as Lord Adonis, the transport secretary, said the government hoped to "progressively replace" short-haul flights with a 250 mph train network in the UK.

Michael O'Leary, chief executive of Europe's largest short-haul airline, Ryanair, warned against making cross-Channel rail services the main conduit between the UK and Europe. "It is insane," he said. “The only link you have is one highly priced tunnel. People are not going to travel to the UK regions, including the Lake District and Cornwall, on a [Eurostar] train that only stops at Kent and London St Pancras.”

Profitable airlines were already being hit hard by the air passenger duty while the rail network received billions of pounds in subsidies, O'Leary said. "On [return] domestic flights from to GlasgowLondon, passengers are paying £20 in taxes while they continue to subsidize…the railways. Substituting one form of transport that is heavily taxed for a form of transport that is heavily subsidized is not the answer."

British Airways also expressed skepticism at Lord Adonis's comments. The airline backs Department for Transport plans to run a new high-speed line via Heathrow airport and on to the rest of the UK, but a spokesperson said it would be impractical to target flights to more distant short-haul destinations such as Madrid, Rome and Prague.

The pro-aviation lobby group Flying Matters warned that certain domestic routes, including airports such as Exeter and Aberdeen, would still have to operate internal flights to a hub airport such as Heathrow because a high-speed link was unlikely to reach those cities.

In an interesting environmental twist, the International Air Transport Association (IATA), which represents more than 200 major airlines worldwide, said a recent report published by experts at the University of Berkeley, California, had calculated that the greenhouse gas emissions of train travel could be more than double current estimates.

Fuel use is normally the main factor in calculating a transport mode's emissions, but the Berkeley report included emissions from building and maintaining vehicles, as well as building the infrastructure that carries them. Once those factors were added in, the report said, the carbon dioxide emitted by trains was far higher than expected.

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