Rail and air links: what are the implications of a ban on short-haul flights?
While the European Commission has called for collective journeys of less than 500 km to become carbon neutral, its proposal for a “sustainable and smart mobility strategy” does not set out any plan to reduce air travel and redirect passengers to the trains. Greenpeace has demanded that the EU ban short-haul flights where an alternative to the train of less than six hours is possible, but various improvements to rail systems need to be made.
The research revealed that 51 of the 150 busiest short-haul flights in the EU have train alternatives of less than six hours, 73 of the 250 busiest short-haul flights in Europe (EU, Norway, Switzerland and UK) have sub-six hour train alternatives, and 41 of the EU’s 150 busiest flights have direct overnight train alternatives.
Greenpeace estimates that implementing these changes in the EU will save 3.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) each year, while the wider area of Europe could save 23.4 million tonnes of CO2e per year. The Madrid – Barcelona flight was used as an example, as it is the busiest in Spain. The route emits up to nine times more CO2e than the alternative 2.5-hour train journey.
Improvements need to be made in train quality, train frequency, ticket cost and accessibility.
Herwig Schuster, Campaign and Project Development Manager at Greenpeace, says: “Investment in rolling stock infrastructure is important. There must be a better ticketing system in Europe, it is very complicated to book tickets for cross-border train travel, because you have to search on different websites. There should be better cooperation between rail operators.
He acknowledged other advantages of traveling by train as opposed to flying, such as waiting times, luggage restrictions and good working conditions, including power outlets and WiFi.
“The French government has already banned certain flights of less than two hours. I think other countries will. In 10 to 15 years, I think short-haul flights in Europe will be a thing of the past,” adds Schuster.
Climate campaigners such as Communities Against Gatwick Noise Emissions (CAGNE) have suggested airfare should reflect the environmental ramifications of flying, but they are currently cheaper than rail alternatives.
Sally Pavey, President of CAGNE, says: “The more the government allows the expansion of the airport, the more we will never correct this imbalance. We should invest in rail and stop airport expansion until the industry can be green, which will require big investment and a major source with large quantities.
Search for sustainable fuel
The aviation industry explained that a ban on domestic flights will not always be possible. parts of the UK.
Short-haul and domestic flights also cross the sea efficiently – over 60% of UK domestic air services do so. This connects Northern Ireland, the Channel Islands, the Isle of Mann and the Scottish Isles to the mainland and to each other.
Tim Alderslade, Managing Director of Airlines UK, explains: “Flight is not the problem – carbon emissions are – and we believe the solution is not to reduce the enormous economic and social benefits derived from flying. , but rather to provide the solutions that promise to make zero-emission flight a reality.
Sustainable aviation fuels are expected to play an important role in this regard, while residual emissions could be offset and eliminated via direct air capture technologies.
Alderslade adds: “The introduction of sustainable aviation fuels over this decade could account for at least 30% of UK aviation fuel demand by 2050, the introduction of new technologies and new propulsion systems, Airbus aiming to be able to offer a medium range of commercial hydrogen. powered aircraft by the mid-2030s and airspace modernization.
In terms of long-haul flights, the development of sustainable aviation fuels from bio and synthetic feedstocks has accelerated, with new production facilities planned across the UK. The challenges will be to design high-pressure tanks compatible with aircraft for gaseous hydrogen or cryogenic tanks for liquid hydrogen.
In addition, supporting ground infrastructure should be in place. The Institute of Aerospace Technology funds the Flyzero project, which covers these areas of study as well as projects that have been funded under the UK government’s Future Flight programme.
The aviation industry has come under pressure from the government to develop greener practices in the industry. However, concerns remain about how quickly these plans can be realized.
Pavey said: “The aviation industry is waking up due to government pressure to make the industry greener. We don’t have the quantities of sustainable aviation fuel and other industries are looking for the same source.
“It’s one thing to fly because there’s no way to get to Australia and it’s another to be on leisure flights.”
It is important to distinguish between domestic and international air travel. Emissions from international air transport have continued to increase significantly, but emissions from domestic air transport in the UK peaked in 2005 and have steadily declined.
UK domestic air emissions are lower overall than rail, which is the generally encouraged alternative mode of transport.
Andy Smith, head of sustainability strategy at Loganair, said: “Emissions from diesel rail alone are higher than all domestic flights in the UK, but this mode is considered universally more sustainable as the statistics produced by BEIS and used by the Ministry of Transport end up obscuring the real climate impact of non-electrified train travel. Non-electrified railways are the only option for the majority of the country outside of the South East and trunk routes, mixing the low emissions per passenger of electrified rail with the very high emissions per passenger of diesel.
It can be argued that BEIS emissions factors suggest that the impact of domestic flights and all short-haul air travel is 90% greater than its direct emissions, based on an assessment of the indirect effects of emissions at high altitude, which include high altitude nitrogen oxide and contrails.
This doubling of impact should not apply to short-haul flights, as the lower cruise altitudes used by turboprops mean that conditions that cause drag are rarely encountered. In addition, the impacts of nitrogen oxides are much lower for short-haul flights than for long-haul flights.
Smith adds: “This is important because adding the 90% factor – despite low scientific confidence surrounding the indirect effects) leads BEIS to suggest that flying is more harmful to the climate than driving a car, despite the fact that air travel, according to the government’s own calculations, emits less direct CO₂ per passenger-kilometre than the equivalent car journey”, acknowledging the inappropriateness of its application and the low scientific confidence surrounding the indirect effects – leads BEIS to suggest that flying is more harmful to the climate than driving a car, despite the fact that air travel, according to the government’s own calculations, emits less direct CO₂ per passenger-kilometre than car travel equivalent.
Loganair recommends a level playing field between these modes of transport as well as a holistic approach to taxation and policy.
Smith says: “Rather than directly competing, we’d like to see rail, air and road connections better integrated to allow travelers to connect seamlessly and select the most efficient choice for their journey.”
The advantages of rail
A quarter of EU GHG emissions can be attributed to transport. Roads are responsible for 72% and the aviation industry is responsible for 12%, a significant difference from the rail industry’s 0.5%.
IATA predicts that there will be 8.2 billion air travelers in 2037, leading to a significant increase in greenhouse gas emissions. In the rail industry, while the International Energy Association predicts that passenger and freight activity on the railways will more than double by 2050, further progress has been made with the electrification of rail .
The vast majority of the population uses rail due to the number of stations available. Train stations are convenient in that they connect people across city centers, while airports tend to be located on the outskirts of cities. Another convenience offered to train passengers is the frequency of trains available in relation to flights.
Traveling by train, compared to flights, offers more convenience to passengers. This applies whether or not the passenger chooses to work while traveling. Passengers have more space and opportunities to move around during their journey instead of sitting on planes.
While rail service on the Brussels-Vienna, Stockholm-Berlin and Amsterdam-Munich routes has improved, many more improvements need to be made in order to consolidate rail as the most accessible and environmentally friendly mode of transport.