View Full Version : Trains "should replace planes" - says government "think tank"

Localiser Green
29th Nov 2002, 11:40
The price of air travel should rise to limit the environmental impact caused by the increase in flying.

BBC News Online Stoy (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/2525041.stm)

You want it when?
29th Nov 2002, 11:51
The cost of fuel should rise to include local taxes. Having said that it would need to be enforced globally otherwise the PPL hop to Jersey to fill up is going to become something the major airlines will copy - maybe not to Jersey though

As for "Trains take the strain" the author doesn't use them or they would realise that they cannot carry the current load let alone an increased one.

Airships for cargo!

29th Nov 2002, 13:32
.......but how are they going to get them to take off and land?

29th Nov 2002, 16:15
Newswatcher - I didn't think of the "take-off and land" joke, but I do wonder how you can get a train from Glasgow to Stornoway, or Cardiff to Cork!:D

29th Nov 2002, 16:34
There's a fair amount of codesharing going on between airlines and rail networks, but it's funny how no-one seems to want to codeshare with the British train system. :rolleyes:

Notso Fantastic
29th Nov 2002, 17:17
They pay these idiots on Quangos a fortune- they then feel obliged to produce 'new' ideas that invariably end up being idiotic. Trains to Madrid don't work too well. People will have the answer THEY dictate by putting their hands in their pockets and paying for what THEY want, and they don't want these fools producing the equivalent of aviation 'speed bumps'. The thinking is 'inconvenience the traveller to get him to travel as theorists decide he should'- a line of thought Ken Livingstone and Road Traffic Authorities have enthusiastically taken up! Are trains so 'environmentally clean'? Electricity generation, friction, heat, noise (the French TGV is not exactly quiet)- taking up thousands of acres of countryside in the levels envisaged, and eyesore with electricity pylons, eternal noise over large swathes of countryside, killing wild animals in large numbers, falling apart on leaves, snow, flooding, vandalism. And they pay these twerps to come up with these ideas!

29th Nov 2002, 17:23
It intrigues me that environmental fascists, greens and their fellow travellers excoriate the motor car and urge us all to use public transport, then in the next breath condemn the airlines. I always thought of an airliner as public transport. Perhaps I'm just confused - see signature:)

29th Nov 2002, 17:26
So our lovely government is about to start adding a tax to aviation fuel. Do the railways not get tax free fuel? And shipping lines?

capt cb
29th Nov 2002, 17:30
About traintravel:

How much is the weight of an avarage train capable of transporting 200 pax? All this weight has to be transported anyway.

How much energy does a train use? including transport losses from the place where the electrical energy is made!

Is this energy enviremental o.K.? (coal, cokes, etc)?

How much room in the landscape does a mile of traintracks take, an avarage airport?

How much noise makes a train goiing past an iron trainbrigde?

What is true and what are the political correct answers?

Just look it up in any report made by governement or enviremental groups, by the way; what happened to the hole in the ozonelayer: no money there anymore?


29th Nov 2002, 17:33
Besides the seemingly ignored environmental costs applicable to trains, there is also massive government subsidy for rail travel which I'm sure equals or even exceeds that given to aviation (through alleged hidden absence of tax on fuel).

For example, the train operating companies here in the UK are paid a fortune to operate their train services: and we're not talking branch line routes here. Virgin in particular gets a massive government subsidy to operate such routes as London-Manchester and London-Glasgow where the likes of BA and BD have to sink or swim on their own.

It's not any better on the much vaunted continent. Whilst SNCF technically makes a profit (albeit a small one) the company which owns the tracks (and also builds those massively expensive Lines a Grande Vitesse), RFF, is in massive amounts of debt. Here's the text of a very interesting article from June last year (about the time when everyone was saying you were about to be able to get to Marseilles from London quicker than you could get to Glasgow and wasn't it pathetic etc. etc.)

Viewed from the English side of the Channel, the achievement is breathtaking. Once the new TGV service starts, it will be possible to travel from London’s Waterloo station to Marseilles in about six hours—two hours fewer than it takes to travel by train from London to Inverness in Scotland. There is talk of a direct train from Waterloo to the new Marseilles St Charles station. For Parisians, it means they can escape the cold and wet of the French capital to reach the balmy Côte d’Azur in just three hours—one hour 20 minutes less than the old service.

But there is another side to this tale of gloire: the French may rival Japan in their brilliant inter-city rail network, but, as taxpayers, they pay dearly for the privilege. There is a huge black hole in the railways’ accounts, into which billions of euros are poured each year. And there are parts of the network (notably the Ile de France area around Paris) where consumers are revolting against the horrible state of a train service that is reminiscent of southern England’s, with traffic outgrowing capacity and track and rolling stock wearing out too quickly.

On the surface, it looks as though the railways are making only a small loss of FFr1 billion ($130m), the figure expected this year after punishing strikes over Easter. But that is just the tip of un très grand iceberg. The real horror of French rail finances is buried in another company, called Réseau Ferré de France (RFF). RFF owns the track and signals, and charges SNCF, the sole national operator, for access. But it pays SNCF, in turn, for managing the network.

In the mid-1990s, the European Commission was pressing the French to separate track and rail operations in the interests of greater financial transparency, and also to open the way for some competition on the tracks. Eventually, the French opted for separation in 1997, but for a different reason: SNCF as it was then constituted was going as bust as only a nationalised industry could, halfway through spending FFr300 billion on its TGV network. So the huge debts were shunted into the new state-owned company—where the grim financial picture is still tucked away.

The accounts for 2000 show RFF running at a loss of euro1.7 billion a year. But the true figure is in fact much higher, because there is, in addition, a subsidy from the government of euro1.6 billion. Now that SNCF is itself slipping back into the red, that means that the total losses on French railways are around euro3.5 billion a year.

And the future looks even bleaker. The long-term debt inherited by RFF has risen from euro20.7 billion four years ago to euro22.8 billion, and there is little prospect of reducing it by much. So, over the past three years, under a programme known as “reform of reform”, the company has tapped the international capital markets for loans worth euro18.5 billion, not to spend on shiny new lines but just to refinance its old debts.

As a result, RFF pays interest charges amounting to euro2.4 billion a year. That is almost as great as its biggest trading expense, the euro2.6 billion it pays to SNCF for managing the network . Since the state guarantees the debt, RFF gets an extra subsidy in that it does not have to pay full market interest rates. In addition, RFF in its first four years enjoyed about euro5.4 billion of capital provided by the state. Each year the government puts in new equity to cover the loss: last year the figure was euro1.9 billion.

RFF is supposed to get itself into profit and start paying down its debts, but there is no reasonable prospect of that happening. Mr Gallois has been making noises for some months about redefining SNCF’s financial relations with RFF and the state. This year the 250km extension of the line to Marseilles will put up his access charges to euro1.7 billion. SNCF complains that the track charges will swallow all its passenger revenues on the Marseilles run.

Mr Gallois thinks that the government should just bite the bullet and take over the debts on RFF’s books, in effect writing off the infrastructure investment of building the high-speed network. In that way SNCF might win lower access charges. In practice, however, the government has asked RFF to reduce its borrowings by about half over the next ten years, and the European Commission is increasingly critical of France’s support for its railways, expecting a more commercial framework and the opening of at least some lines to competition. The first customers for Marseilles will be paying about euro62 for an off-peak single ticket, or euro75 at rush-hour. That may yet turn out to be a short-lived bargain at the taxpayer’s expense.

So, if that prat from Friends of the Earth on Channel 4 news last night is complaining about an alleged 'hidden aviation subsidy', tell him to take a look at RFF's balance sheets.

Oh PS........the new Channel Tunnel Rail link takes up about as much space as Heathrow.

But it only goes from London to the Kent coast........whereas from Heathrow you can end up anywhere (as my baggage frequently reminds me!......)

29th Nov 2002, 18:52
Unfortunately, more fossil fuel needs to be burnt in order to transport people by air than by rail. The exact difference will of course vary depending on factors such as the distance travelled and the type of aircraft. However, you can’t get away from the fact that air travel generally produces more carbon dioxide per passenger kilometre than rail travel – approximately 300% as much.

Yes, air travel is faster and often more convenient than rail travel. Yes, it's often more pleasant and people may prefer it. Yes, it doesn't disfigure the landscape in the same way that a rail network does. But the bottom line is that it does produce more carbon dioxide per passenger kilometre.

29th Nov 2002, 22:09
What a silly idea to put more people on the trains. Not only are they invariably packed but there is no way that our system could ever rival those in place in France and Germany.

Especially when they decide after years of planning that the West Coast main line won't actually be high speed but only 120mph max. Great. Makes Virgin's investments pretty useless really doesn't it?

29th Nov 2002, 22:26
Soon the same folks will want to ban taxi cabs because all that start-stop driving is provably a source of pollution.

As I understand it, aviation efficiently uses some components of crude oil that would otherwise be useful only in much lower-value applications. Reduction or elmination of aviation demand for kerosene-type fuels would necessitate higher charges for automotive petrol.

So commercial aviation actually subsidizes the cost of motor fuel for cars.

29th Nov 2002, 23:24
Well, the London to Paris/Brussels Channel Tunnel train service is no shining example. After enormous investment on both sides of the channel (and under it) a good half of the passenger trains built for it are redundant. Some have been hired to operate out of London Kings Cross to Leeds, while several of the original London to Paris ones have now been transferred away to domestic runs in France. The trains built for the overnight runs from Britain to the continent have been sold to Canada, never having operated. The utilisation of the remaining fleet is way down on original plans, and passenger numbers are about half the expectations. The London to Brussels demand in particular is apparently dropping by the year, as are the number of scheduled runs.

Meanwhile Ryanair have sprung up to Brussels and Easyjet to Paris. The traditional carriers, having taken a big initial hit, are now holding their own or better. So if this one prestige project has been a flop financially, what hope for a whole network?

29th Nov 2002, 23:28
Here in the US where the pax train systems is a faint shadow of that in Europe, it would be totally impractical. Even high speed trains are slow by comparison, the track maintenance requirement would be astronomical, too many safety concerns at road intersections, and distances too great.

I'd like to see a better train system in the US, but nobody (including pax) will pay to ride on a slow, inefficient system.

29th Nov 2002, 23:58
None of this matters.

The reason why there is no tax on jet fuel for international flights is that no countries could come to a tax agreement during the discussions shortly after WWII. I seriously doubt this has changed at all in the last 50 years.

If, for example, the UK unilaterally decided to be "environmentally conscious" and tax the hell out of jet fuel, we would just tanker all the time from abroad. OK it costs more to carry more but it would certainly cost less than paying the tax. The only way to prevent this would be to create a level playing field and there is no way that will ever happen between all the countries of the world. Maybe it would happen between the EU countries which would cause problems but the rest? No way.

Regarding a previous post maybe if jets weren't using all that useless by-product kerosene the government could implement a prohibitive energy tax which would force everyone to switch off their energy-wasting lights and use kerosene lamps which would go some way to preventing kerosene waste! Get real, Friends of the Earth.


30th Nov 2002, 02:26
It is good to see companies like Virgin at least trying to update the UK's aged Rail system.

Increasing the taxes on Air Travel at the moment will only make people in the UK who make regular long trips resort back to traveling by car.

As long as other rail companies start to follow Virgins example and the UK government get tough on lax operators Rail travel may become a more attractive alternative in years to come.

Dave T-S
30th Nov 2002, 09:44
Well....I use the Stansted Express into London every day, so can report as follows:

1) They are pathologically incapable of running to time for more than about 24 hours at a stretch until it all goes pear shaped

2) It costs more (£23 return) to get to/from the airport than it does to fly just about anywhere on the LCO's routes when offers are on


Max Tout
30th Nov 2002, 10:41
Global warming will eventually produce a climate in UK similar to that of the Côte d’Azur, therefore half the tourists won’t wish to fly to the Spanish desert for their cheap holidays, the pollution will decrease and Friends of the Earth will be able to look for something else to worry about. Isn’t the balance of nature amazing?

30th Nov 2002, 11:14
Glad you're so confident Max Tout.

The alternative of course is that the Gulf Stream might be pushed south or simply switched off leaving Britain with a climate commensurate with its latitude.

30th Nov 2002, 13:18
If we all stopped breathing just imagine how many C02 emissions we could prevent. I'm waiting for the greens to lead by example.

Young Paul
30th Nov 2002, 15:13
The reason that (non-airline) public transport across the US is so bad is at least in part because the oil companies bought up city transit corporations to get them to fold, so that the car could reign supreme. The petrol price in the US also completely ignores the environmental impact - which biases everything even more heavily to the car.

I agree strongly that where surface public transport is a viable option, it ought to receive investment priority. Unfortunately, the UK govt is uninterested in investing public money in such projects.

In particular, I am amazed that anybody should fly to Brussels or Paris from London, given the public transport links even in their current state. But then, I understand that MEP's receive an allowance of £500 per flight taken on euro-business, regardless of the amount they pay for their ticket, so I guess that a lot of pointless flights are inevitable.

I also know that I'd rather live 10 miles from Heathrow on an approach or departure route than any distance from a railway station within 300 metres of the railway. Planning blight for a railway is considerably worse than that for an airport, and improvements in technology don't generally decrease noise along a railway line.

2nd Dec 2002, 11:36

what's the betting that, if the UK govt did tax jet fuel, they would also pass a law to ensure that all aircraft leaving a UK airport had a minimum(large) amount of fuel in their tanks. Administrative nightmare? Hasn't stopped them before!

2nd Dec 2002, 14:50
According to the Guardian today, Ken Livingstone don't agree: he wants more rwys around London - as long as they are at LGW and STN - well outside the GLA's area of responsibility, off his budget and well away from his voters (except when they want to get on a plane). Ah...politics!

2nd Dec 2002, 16:22
As my flying time amounts to ten minutes in a glider, I've always considered it unwise to post my opinions on this forum but, as you've touched on a subject I am very interested in, this time I couldn't resist.

As I live in Liverpool and travel fairly regularly to Birmingham and London by train, I am very well aware of the deficiencies of the railway system. In fact our train service to London is now appreciably slower than it was in the late 1960's.

The West Coast Route Modernisation aims to introduce 125 mph tilting trains that will cut the journey time down to just over two hours but we still have some years to wait.

Even so, the train service that we have at present amounts to 16 trains a day with a capacity equivalent to some 30 Boeing 747s and takes people from the centre of Liverpool to the centre of London.

What about the air service? Thats easy - there isn't one. We used to have a well-patronised service to Heathrow that was removed because the slots were required for other services. For several years, operators have been trying to relaunch the air link to the capital with little success - mainly due to the non-availability of peak time slots or the use of remote airports such as Luton.

At the same time, thanks to St. Stelios, we now have 5 services a day to Amsterdam Schipol, 3 a day to Paris CDG, 7 a day to Belfast,1 a day to Madrid etc. etc.

So if I were to give the two rival services between Liverpool and London a score out of 10, it would be 5 for rail and 0 for air.

Generally, rail can compete effectively with air where the journey time city-centre to city-centre is less than 3 hours. It, therefore, makes sense to concentrate resources on rail services where thay can reasonably achieve these times. London to Marseilles probably isn't a goer, London to Paris definitely is, as is London to Birmingham, Liverpool, Leeds, Manchester, Sheffield, Newcastle etc.

Remember also, that, with the exception of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, no new trunk railways have been built in Britain for almost a century. The West Coast Main Line, mentioned above, was built in the reign of King William IV. They are an accepted part of the environment.

I don't dispute BahrainLad's claim that the new Channel Tunnel Rail Link Tunnel Rail Link will take up almost as much space as Heathrow - I simply don't know. What I do know is that the CTRL follows existing lines of severance (motorways and other railways) and, in environmentally sensitive areas uses cuttings and tunnels.

By contrast, Heathrow is an environmental disaster which blights a vast area of South London and, if a third runway is approved, will cause dislocation and disturbance for thousands of people (although my back yard will be safe).

Correct me if I'm wrong but I wasn't under the impression that punctuality was a major feature of air travel. I've made about 30 flights in my lifetime of which at least 6 were seriously delayed - by which I mean by hours not minutes, including one delay of twelve hours! The greatest delay that I have ever experienced in thousands of train journeys is 3 hours - and that was 25 years ago!

Rail services in Britain have suffered from being a political football for decades. I'm hoping that Network Rail and more sensible franchise agreements will work to stabilise the situation and giving Britain the second to none railway system that it once had and should have. Modern railway systems, as proved by the TGV in France, the ICE in Germany, the Shinkansen in Japan and the AVE in Spain are more than equal to any airline competition.

2nd Dec 2002, 18:29
This topic interests me...but aren't we missing the point here?

If we look at it as objectively as we can;

1. Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth are notorious for scare-mongering, and in some cases out and out lying (the cases I know of are too many to list here).

2. Quango's don't go beyond their brief, which is detailed by the government of the day (and often not listened to, anyway, cos' they can be a way of giving some worthy a sinecure).

3. the public will do what the public want to do anyway.

Yes, we have a creaky, struggling rail service in the UK, yes it is subsidised, because of years of chronic underfunding and inefficient management, but it is going to needed in the next few years. after all how are people going to get to the airports?

What we really need is a nicely integrated transport policy that uses a mix of trains and planes...after all a decent rail network would be serious competition for internal flights, would mean that cars weren't necessary to get to airports and planes could do the stuff their best at.

2nd Dec 2002, 19:13
Plainspeak a lot of what you're saying is good value. In an ideal world, the train is preferable to the plane for a number of routes, such as the city-centre to city-centre ones you mention.

However, in order to get our rail system up to an acceptable standard is an almost impossible task. The West Coast Route modernisation was originally planned to cost £3bn.....it will now cost £10bn and will not deliver the increase in performance (140mph) that was promised when the project was launched.

If the government were serious about rail travel they would bite the bullet and build at least 2 new high speed rail lines....one from London to the North (straight up the middle with branches to Manchester, York, Newcastle etc.) and one from London to the South West.

It is highly indicative of their spinlessness that both these concepts have been proposed by two private companies, the first by Virgin and the second by First Great Western. The first died becuase of the changing franchising regime which you support which basically makes investment in the railways pointless, as before your investment matures it gets taken away from you. The second died because the Strategic Rail Authority (one of the many organisations that now claims to run our railways) angrily told FGW that strategic planning was not their responsibility (even though FGW were willing to fund the project entirely on their own). Where is the government leadership? Nowhere. The government is sh*t scared of running the railways because the benefits will not bear fruit before the next election (or even the election after that). So they have cobbled together Network Rail which cannot raise money (who'd invest in a not-for-profit company!?) and will have political difficulty in getting money from the government.

Your point about the CTRL taking up existing transport corridor is accepted......however this is a consequence of us living in an increasingly crowded island. The same cannot be said of Northern France, where steel lines have effectively been drawn across an unspoilt landscape. There was also significant opposition to the CTRL from people in Ashford as they realised that high speed trains would be travelling through their back gardens.

Also, the catchment area of city-centre to city-centre services is limited. Anyone who has tried to cross London between Kings Cross and Waterloo with heavy luggage will tell you that Eurostar is a tricky option for a trip to Paris. This may change when the Stratford station opens on the CTRL but this is the exception rather than the rule. The market for city-centre services is actually limited - Eurostar envisaged the equivalent of 2 747s leaving London every hour for Paris.

You therefore have to increase the speed of the connections and provide train services from different parts of the country rather than London. This has been proved a non-started as the Regional Eurostars have never entered service (save being leased to GNER). A high speed (186mph) railway from London to Manchester would make Manchester-Paris competitive....but it would require massive investment.

So, for the forseeable future, the total cost is in favour of air travel. Although it is more costly in environmental terms, that's the only area where it is more expensive. The aircraft are there. The infrastructure is there. The market is there. The cost to expand LHR would be minimal compared to building hundreds of miles of high speed rail lines. The future of Britain as a trading nation depends on it!

Christopher James
2nd Dec 2002, 20:43
Spot on Bahrain.

If politicians had had the spine to do what they should have done years ago, invest in transport, we wouldn't find ourselves in a situation where the time and money needed to take the environmental option just isn't available.

8 Years ago I wrote to the then Minister for transport and said that we were falling seriously behind in the provision of airport capacity (specifically runways) and that we would find ourselves left behind Europe and exposed on safety if we didn't act then. His response was to refute my suggestion, stating that we were well ahead of needs and cited T5 as an example.

It irriatates (rather than satisfies) me to see 8 years later that the arrogant know-alls were wrong. If we in our work were as incompetent as many of the "important" politicians are, we would have our licences removed. Why is there never any accountablilty in government, or come to think of it, management?