Transport»More Trains, Less Planes and Electric Automobiles?
»Thursday, August 6,2009
The transport secretary, Lord Adonis, hit back at airline industry criticism of his high-speed rail plan today as he accused the Ryanair boss, Michael O'Leary, of having his "head in the sand" over the competitive threat posed by 250mph trains.
Adonis rejected claims by O'Leary that investing billions in high-speed rail in the UK to replace short-haul flights would be "insane". O'Leary told the Guardian there would still be heavy demand to travel by air between the UK and Europe because the Channel tunnel is the only rail link between Britain and the continent.
Airlines including British Airways echoed O'Leary's comments yesterday, though in more diplomatic terms. The industry backlash came after Adonis said the government hoped to progressively replace short-haul flights with a 250mph train network in the UK.
Responding to the criticism today, the transport secretary said high-speed rail already controlled 80% of the London to Paris and Brussels market, with a new Dutch high-speed line set to add Amsterdam to the list of rail destinations from the capital.
"Those who think that the airlines will continue to monopolise short-haul European destinations from London have got their heads in the sand," he said. "It is nonsense to suggest that high-speed rail will be competitive with airlines only for internal British journeys. High-speed rail already has the lion's share of the London to Paris and Brussels market. Once the Dutch high-speed line from Brussels to Amsterdam is open later this year, rail will be competitive from London to Amsterdam and Rotterdam; and it won't be long before the same is true of Cologne and Frankfurt."
Earlier, O'Leary, the chief executive of Europe's largest short-haul airline, warned against making cross-Channel rail services the main conduit between the UK and Europe.
"It is insane. 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," he said.
O'Leary was slightly less scathing about switching domestic air passengers to rail, describing it is as a "valid alternative if you don't mind the inefficiency and high cost of rail services".
Profitable airlines were already being hit hard by air passenger duty while the rail network received billions of pounds in subsidies, O'Leary said. "On [return] domestic flights from Glasgow to London, passengers are paying £20 in taxes while they continue to subsidise the shit out of the railways. Substituting one form of transport that is heavily taxed for a form of transport that is heavily subsidised is not the answer."
British Airways expressed scepticism 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. "High-speed rail cannot be a complete substitute for flying," the company said. "There are relatively few destinations in continental Europe to which it would be practical to travel and return by rail in a day. Therefore flying will always remain the preferred form of transport for millions of travellers."
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. "Some journeys would present real practical problems," said Michelle Di Leo, the director of Flying Matters. "For example, how would you get from Edinburgh to Belfast by train in a reasonable amount of time? You can't force people to use options which don't currently exist."
The International Air Transport Association (IATA), which represents more than 200 major airlines worldwide, including BA and Virgin Atlantic, said a country that had taken decades to plan a third runway at Heathrow airport could take even longer to plan a high-speed rail network. It said a recent report published by experts at the University of Berkeley, California, 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.
"When building 3km of runway takes decades, the challenges of criss-crossing the country corridors of high-speed rail infrastructure will be enormous," an IATA spokesperson said. "And for what gain? Putting aside the astronomical costs and timescales of such a project, has the secretary thought about the total carbon lifecycle impact of building so much rail infrastructure? Exactly how many Channel tunnels will be built?"
Elecscoot provide the next generation of Electric Vehicles for the UK. Electric Scooters and Electric Mopeds. Distance up to 100mph.