No Future for Short-Haul?

UK Transport Secretary Lord Adonis has set out his visions for the future of Britain’s railways and these include ambitious plans for a 200mph high speed network. He believes that this could spell the end for domestic and even short flights to nearby European cities, such as Amsterdam, Cologne and Lyon. In an interview for the Times in June he anticipates that demand for domestic flights in the UK would collapse in the next 20 years, with rail taking up much of this traffic.
While the environmental impact of rail, especially electrified routes, is minimal, the cost of the new infrastructure could be enormous – more than £30 billion just for a new high speed line from London to Scotland via Birmingham. The benefits to passengers would be more comfort and facilities as well as avoiding airport security and long waiting times. This greater convenience has already been witnessed in parts of Europe where high speed rail links exist. The benefit to the environment is less clear-cut, despite the vociferous anti-air travel campaigns waged by protest groups and environmentalists over the past few years. Figures from the National Atmospheric Emissions Inventory for 2006 show that of UK transport emission, rail produced 1.7%, domestic aviation produced 1.8% but road transport a colossal 91.6%. The government is expected to announce its final policy decision in early 2010.
Domestic air travel has contracted in the past few of years – down from 26.1mppa in 2005 to 24.3mppa in 2008. However, while some routes such as Manchester to London (thanks to Virgin’s Pendolino services) have seen a significant shift to rail, other air routes remain strong. Lord Adonis sees the three and a half hour journey time barrier as significant – the tipping point at which passengers move from air to rail. By 2029 he believes that a substantial number of European cities will be within this time limit from London.
However, it is not all bad news for the aviation industry. He remains committed to the third runway at London/Heathrow because it is necessary for the increasing number of long-haul passengers. This is despite his opinion that up to 9.4 million Heathrow passengers a year could move from domestic/short haul flights to high-speed rail, a clear indication that people still want to travel internationally from Heathrow – but their method of reaching the airport might change.