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New research shows shift from air to rail has cut carbon in Scotland-London travel market

Published 21 August 2017 by Colin Howden

report front cover imageTransform Scotland has today published its new report ‘A Green Journey to Growth’. The report looks at the carbon savings already achieved by shifting travel from air to rail between Central Scotland and London, and highlights the additional emissions that would be saved should rail continue its progress towards a 50% share of the travel market.

The report reveals a number of findings on the success of Anglo-Scottish rail, including:

  • In the past decade there has been a major shift from air to rail between Central Scotland and London, rising from a 20% to 33% market share for rail between 2005 and 2015 (Edinburgh-London from 24% to 34%, Glasgow-London from 15% to 32%).
  • Rail’s success has prevented an increase in carbon emissions in Anglo-Scottish travel (681,064 tonnes of carbon). This saving is the equivalent of removing all traffic on the M8 travelling between the outskirts of Glasgow and Edinburgh for two years.
  • The very strong growth on the Glasgow-London route has led to savings of 332,208 tonnes of carbon, enough to take 145,000 cars off the road for a year.
  • If the Edinburgh-London route was to continue its growth in market share from 33% to 50% by 2023 then, even assuming a continued annual growth of 2% in the overall (rail & air) travel market, we estimate a 5% drop in overall emissions by 2023 (a further saving of almost 600,000 tonnes of carbon).
  • Further emissions savings can be expected through the introduction of the new ‘Azuma’ trains on the East Coast route. We estimate that while a flight from Edinburgh to London emits 177kg CO2 per passenger, and existing trains (‘HSTs’) emit 34kg per passenger, that an Azuma will emit only 28kg — 84% less than a flight.
  • The significant savings that individuals, SMEs and large businesses can play in reducing their carbon footprint by switching from air to rail.

The report also makes a number of recommendations for the Scottish and UK Governments to ensure the continued success of Anglo-Scottish rail, including:

  • Investment should be made in both East Coast and West Coast mainlines to deliver faster journey times and service improvements ahead of HS2, as part of the policy to reduce CO2.
  • HS2 should similarly be developed so as to deliver further strong modal shift from air to rail on Anglo-Scottish routes.
  • UK and Scottish governments should take a leadership role by encouraging departments which have a lot of travel between Scotland and England to set modal shift targets.
  • The tax system should be used to encourage modal shift from air to rail, rather than incentivising air travel by reducing Air Departure Tax rates on domestic routes.
  • Investment decisions affecting different modes such as road, rail and air should be made holistically so that the potential for modal shift can be planned and accommodated rather than viewing projects in isolation.

Commenting on the report, Transform Scotland director Colin Howden said:

“The Scottish transport sector has failed to take significant action to tackle climate change, and has recently become the single largest source of carbon emissions. However, one area where there has been significant progress is in Anglo-Scottish travel, where rail’s share of the travel market has grown strongly over the past decade.

“Our report shows that rail’s success in capturing market share from air has prevented an increased in carbon emissions across the entire Scotland-London travel market. The resulting carbon savings made over the past decade is equivalent to removing all traffic on the M8 for travel between the outskirts of Glasgow and Edinburgh for two years.

“For Scotland to meet its challenging climate targets, it is imperative that further action be taken to ensure that rail can grow to at least a 50% market share of the Scotland-London travel market over the next decade. In order to continue this positive trend in a switch to rail, we need to see increased investment in the rail network, Government taking the lead and encouraging public bodies to use the train rather than flying to London, and a fairer taxation system for Anglo-Scottish travel.”

David Horne, Managing Director of Virgin Trains East Coast, said:

“When we took over the east coast route, we set out ambitious plans to gain a 50% market share between Edinburgh and London by 2023. These figures show an encouraging start to that journey and confirm an historic shift in travel patterns towards train. Our customers have responded positively to the improvements in customer service and investment in new train interiors and additional services.”

Welcoming the report, Scottish Government Minister for Transport and Islands, Humza Yousaf MSP, said:

“The Scottish Government has set some of the toughest climate change targets for the people of Scotland.  I am therefore delighted to hear of the increase in the use of our railway, as it is a fundamental part of achieving our greener transport aspirations. I welcome the publication of this Transform Scotland report  which showcases the environmental benefits of rail, and underlines the importance of having high speed rail connectivity between Scotland and London.”

The full report is available to view here.