Monday, 13 June 2005

Rail v air travel

While rail and sea transport may have environmental advantages over road and air, sometimes campaigners go too far in extolling its virtues.
An example: The WLT is based in East Anglia, and we work with colleagues in Netherlands. I personally prefer travelling by train, because it is less hassle. But to go to Amsterdam by train (on the 'new high-speed train and boat service' mentioned in the latest Ethical Conasumer (EC95 July/August 2005), is not a very realistic alternative to flying, and is certainly not hassle-free. A 7.30 am start from our office gets you to Amsterdam at 5.30pm, just in time to check in to an hotel. After the following day's work, you can go back to your hotel, and then either get up for a 5.30am departure, or hang around until 2pm, the following afternoon, and finally get back to to the WLT office at 9.45pm. The alternative to this three-day trip, is a plane from our local (Norwich) airport, that gets in to Amsterdam at 9am, and allows a full days work before flying back in the evening. It's going to be difficult to convince any business traveller that the 'high-speed' train and rail service, with the expense of two nights accommodation plus all the hassle, is a viable alternative,

And before we get too carried away with anti-flying sentiments, we should remember that flying is actually a form of public transport, every bit as much as railways. A full aeroplane, may be more energy efficient than a bus with three or four passengers, or a nearly empty train -- both of which are very common sights. Surely the problem is that with the privatisation free-for all, there are no rational planned strategies for transport? While profitability, is the main (only?) criterion deciding which routes and which type of transport are viable, it is going to be very difficlut, if not impossible to change the habits of travellers. A large proportion of the travel undertaken is not essential -- it is for 'pleasure'. And even a significant proportion of 'essential' business travel is because we have chosen to live a long way from our place of work.

Finally, there is the problem of public transport in rural areas. In the modern world, no one expects to be tied to their villages as they were in the past, and in any case, there are no longer the shops and services once found there. But is public transport always the answer?


  1. Yes, the true cost of a journey is more than the cost of the fare. Accommodation, subsistence and the traveller's time have to be taken into account.

    Many years after New Labour came to power with, inter alia, the aim of creating a 'joined-up' transport policy, a new guru has come up with a plan to provide such fast rail links between UK cities that short flights won't be needed. It would be even better if they have a fare structure more like the cheap air companies than the current rail companies.

    While decrying the loss of village amenities, one development for the better is that supermarkets now do deliveries. Not so good as caring neighbours to help with shopping and itincreases the supermarkets' monopolies, but people who are housebound or at least unable to drive will benefit. But it won't replace the vanishing village pub.