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Trains over planes: high speed rail is key to greener travel says research

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Increasing the number of high-speed rail (HSR) routes and allowing more carriers to compete on these lines would have a significant impact in pushing passengers to make greener, more environmentally-friendly travel choices.

This is according to new research from SilverRail, a company building the digital infrastructure for rail, which is today releasing the latest phase of its Train over Plane campaign – an initiative dedicated to helping the rail sector increase its passenger share.

Despite being a greener alternative, train travel remains the second choice for most of Europe’s passengers – with air often outcompeting rail in three critical areas:

  • Affordability
  • Travel Time
  • Quality of experience

However, when analysing a selection of the region’s most prominent HSR routes, researchers found that those that welcomed competition to the line, increasing the number of carriers, enjoyed a significant uplift in passenger numbers. Clearly a combination of reduced journey times as well as the cost reductions and improved customer service that result from increased competition proved the perfect formula for Europe’s travellers.

Sourced from a presentation by Dr. Andrea Giuricin at the Global Business Travel Association’s inaugural Sustainability Summit showed that when the Madrid to Barcelona route added HSR services, the number of passengers choosing rail over planes jumped from a mere 12% to nearly half (48%). And later, when new carriers were allowed to operate on the line, rail’s share of travellers rose to just under three-quarters (73%).

Similar gains were also seen in Italy, where the addition of HSR to the route between Milan and Rome increased rail’s passenger share from 36% to 58%, before reaching a mammoth 80% when competition was added to the route.

In the UK, the London to Edinburgh rail route saw an increase in passenger share from 35% to 63% as a result of increased HSR competition.

Taking an average of the market share increases across these three routes and applying that to the other 28 European routes currently covered by HSR, SilverRail estimates that if competition was added to these lines the industry would see an average modal shift of 50%, which would net the rail sector an estimated €‎1 billion in additional revenue.

On an environmental level, the impact could also be huge: the same shift would prevent up to 2.4 million tonnes of carbon emissions entering the earth’s atmosphere.

However, SilverRail’s survey of 10,000 travellers across Europe found that just over half (53%) said environmental sustainability was an important factor in their decision about which mode of transport to take.

Furthermore, when asked about which features would differentiate train providers, travellers deemed sustainability initiatives, such as carbon tracking and carbon offsets, to be the least important in their decision making, behind pre-travel train information and the ability to make cost comparisons.

With passengers proving unwilling to prioritise environmental sustainability as part of their travel decisions, rail operators face an even greater responsibility to make the necessary changes that will entice passengers to choose greener travel options.

Cameron Jones, chief commercial officer at SilverRail, said: “Despite Europe rail’s heritage, the region’s passengers are drawn to air travel for its perceived ability to offer the lowest cost and quickest journeys. And while the aviation sector will always have a place in serving long-distance travel needs, its sizeable carbon footprint means that, where possible, the world must find greener alternatives to get travellers from A to B.

“Trains, which on average produce 90% less carbon than planes, are the natural choice. However, if the rail sector is going to compete successfully it must do so by providing a comparable experience – finding a way to get people to their destination quickly and cost-effectively.

“This latest chapter in our long-running Train over Plane campaign perfectly illustrates that by focussing on increasing speed, reducing the cost of travel and improving service, we can create a significant change in passenger behaviour.”

Image credit: SilverRail

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