HSRG hopes that passengers will switch from air to rail travel

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A new report offers an explanation of how expanding the national high-speed rail network will encourage the transfer of passengers from air to rail, as Jasleen Mann explains.


new report, called 'How to win air travellers to rail' by Greengauge 21, commissioned by High-Speed Rail Group (HSRG), has been published.

Greengauge 21 is an umbrella involving parties with interest in a high-speed rail network, which debates the merits of alternative routes, technologies, implementation strategies, and benefits.

Jim Steer, author of the report and HSRG board director, says: “By considering pre-HS2 and post-HS2 timescales and the geographies within Britain and between Britain and the continent of Europe, it becomes increasingly clear the essential role high-speed rail will play in facilitating this shift.

“Imagine being able to start a journey in Manchester or Birmingham, and through the proper integration of high-speed rail services, being able to make a journey to Amsterdam: today this is an airline market of 2.1 million passengers per annum. Imagine the convenience of rail and the significant carbon savings to be made.”

Brightline senior vice president, corporate affairs, Ben Porritt

Capturing the London–Edinburgh market

Passengers favouring rail travel over air travel is a significant contribution to the journey towards achieving net-zero. HSRG aims to encourage this passenger behaviour on a larger scale through the expansion and integration of the national high-speed rail network.

In order to achieve this, the plausibility of limited-stop/long-distance rail services is being explored. Additionally, HS2 capacity to turbocharge modal shift will be utilised and as more international travellers move to rail, it is hoped that Britain’s two high-speed rail networks will be connected properly.

A key aspect of encouraging passengers to choose rail is a high level of comfort at competitive prices. According to the report, London to Scotland accounts for 57% of domestic air travellers.

An example of this is open access operator Lumo trialling services with competitive prices for London to Edinburgh. There are no stops between Newcastle and Stevenage, with fares being offered from £19.90 ($23.57).

It is hoped that this concept will be expanded, but until HS2 is in operation it is unlikely that more rail services or quicker rail services to and from London will be in place. For example, it is only HS2 that is expected to cut the London–Glasgow/Edinburgh journey from 4 hours 20 minutes to 3 hours 38 minutes.

In addition, improvements to the West Coast Main Line will also allow HS2 journey times such as the Birmingham-Glasgow journey to improve from 4 hours 45 minutes to 3 hours 20 minutes.

Additional routes could capture air travellers

Current journeys are slow, and it has been suggested that avoiding stations on congested parts of the network could make a significant difference. HS2 will provide quicker journeys and limited-stop services. quicker journeys and provide capacity for additional limited-stop services.

HS2 will improve travel between London and Scotland by train, reducing the journey time by nearly an hour as trains will run at 225 mph as opposed to 125mph. A Union Connectivity Review suggested that these railway upgrades could allow rail to win 75% of AngloScottish passengers.

In addition, journeys between Manchester and Birmingham can now avoid the gap between Euston and St Pancras stations, allowing passengers to go directly to border controls at HS1 stations. The current airline market of Manchester/Birmingham to Amsterdam is 2.1 million passengers each year or 2,900 each day.

Ultimately, the report suggests that the transfer of all British domestic mainland airline passengers to rail would fill around 20 trains per day each way. Services could also be expanded to cities within 1,000km such as Berlin, Zurich, and Barcelona.

Our intermodal option makes a lot of sense as airlines can remain competitive and contribute to an environmentally friendly strategy.

Following last year’s battery-powered locomotive pilot, BNSF is looking at the viability of biofuels in partnership with Wabtec. Credit: BNSF

Main image: A BNSF Railway freight train snakes along the Clark Fork River near Thompson Falls, MT. Credit: Drew Halverson | Shutterstock