TRAVELLING by train at Christmas costs more than three times as much as flying on average, according to a new analysis from Greenpeace. Researchers compared train and plane ticket prices on 22 popular routes in the UK and Europe and found that polluting flights were consistently cheaper on four-out-of-five (82 per cent) of them.

Christmas is one of the busiest times to travel in the UK, as millions of Brits head home for Christmas or out of the country on festive breaks. Despite the fact that flying is five times more polluting than taking the train on average, airlines continue to post artificially low prices that do not factor in the pollution they cause.

Paul Morozzo, transport campaigner at Greenpeace UK, said: “Unless you own a herd of reindeer and a magical sleigh, the cheapest mode of transport this Christmas is likely to be a polluting flight. But it doesn’t have to be this way. A lack of investment in railways and ticketing, and a failure to properly tax carbon emissions, have created a nightmare before Christmas where consumers are effectively being rewarded for polluting.”

Researchers found that taking the train on seven of the most popular UK routes was almost twice (1.7x) the average cost of flying. But the average price of a train ticket soared to 4.2 times that of a flight for 15 popular destinations in Europe, including Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam, as well as the Christmas market cities of Prague, Budapest, Copenhagen and Cologne.

The price gaps

  • London to Barcelona: The average cost of a train ticket was 8.7 times that of a flight. Shifting the 3.36 million annual flights to rail would save approximately 461,000 tons of harmful greenhouse gasses – equivalent to the annual emissions of all the cars in Glasgow.
  • London to Prague: At eight times the average price of a flight, rail operators can’t compete with low-cost airlines. A train journey to the Czech capital on 21 December costs €307.60 (£267.80) – almost 18 times as much as the polluting Ryanair flight (€17.57/£15.30).
  • Bristol to Newcastle: While taking the train was consistently more expensive on more than half (four out of seven) of the UK routes, the biggest difference was between these two cities where a rail journey cost almost three times (2.8x) the price of an equivalent flight.

As well as the price gap, the research showed that booking a flight was often simpler and more flexible than buying train tickets – particularly on trips outside the UK. While there are direct flights to all 15 popular in Europe, only three of them have a direct rail link (Amsterdam, Brussels and Paris). Most rail journeys also require travellers to buy at least two separate tickets from different train companies – or three if not starting from London.

Morozzo added: “For the sake of the climate we need to get people out of planes and into trains. We need to level the playing field by bringing in a frequent flyer levy and by ending the unfair subsidies and tax exemptions enjoyed by the aviation sector. This needs to happen in parallel with an increase in capacity on our rail network to facilitate more demand.”

Airlines can keep their prices artificially low because they pay no kerosene tax or VAT, and have even received a recent reduction in Air Passenger Duty in the UK. By contrast, train operators have to pay energy taxes, VAT and high rail tolls in most European countries – although not VAT in the UK. Some airlines also save on staffing costs by employing the legal minimum of employees on low pay and poor conditions.

Greenpeace is calling on the UK government to increase the costs of flying regularly through a frequent flyer levy. It should also phase out the tax exemption on kerosene, as well as subsidies and indirect support for airlines and airports such as new infrastructure. At the same time we should be introducing climate tickets that reduce the cost of train travel and boost convenience and interconnectivity. Finally, for climate reasons, we need to ban all short-haul flights where there is a suitable train alternative.

* Read the full analysis here.

* Source: Greenpeace UK