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UK should choose trains over planes to cut emissions, says report

written by Casey Martin | October 13, 2022

A report conducted by think tank Intergenerational Foundation (IF) has found that domestic aviation is responsible for 2.7 megatonnes of CO2 emissions in 2019 —  the equivalent of 1.7 million petrol cars.

Of this 2.7 megatonnes, 62% were from UK domestic flights between cities linked by the rail network.

According to the think tank, a ban on plane routes that could be travelled by train in four and a half hours or less would reduce CO2 emissions by 53% within Great Britain.

Travel times for two-thirds of passengers traveling between city centres would be extended by only 30 minutes, causing minimal disruptions, while the other third of journeys are as fast or faster by train.

Author at IF, Angus Hanton, said: “Now is the moment to challenge the unnecessary use of aviation fuel. This new, un-green government wants to use the current cost of living crisis as an excuse to keep people in planes rather than them taking the eco-option of train travel”.

It is known that travelling by plane emits around six times more CO2 and other greenhouse gasses than travelling by train, according to the study conducted by the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) in 2019.


Other recommended policies by the IF report call for action to revoke the millions of free pollution permits and tax breaks that are currently given to the aviation industry, while introducing incentives for passengers to travel by train.

IF argued the tax reform on aviation would raise money for the government to invest in green technology and more affordable travel.

Hanton commented: “Banning domestic flights with a viable alternative by train would be a faster route to our net zero targets and a small but important contribution to protecting future generations from the effects of climate change.”

A similar policy was implemented in France during April, wherein the government banned short-haul flights where a train or bus replacement of two and a half or less hours exists.

Liberal Democrat MP for Bath and author of the report’s foreword, Wera Hobhouse, added: “The public understand that flying harms the environment but they need policy support to help encourage them out of planes and onto trains. If the French can ban domestic flights with a rail equivalent, so too can the United Kingdom.”


  • Adrian P


    Replacing a one hour flight with a four and a half hour train journey would turn a one day business trip into a two day trip (2 x 4.5= 9) and an overnight stay which is why France went with the two and half hour limit.
    Not to mention the bus replacement service for wrong type of snow, broken down locomotive or track maintenance.
    If building a new railway, then damage to the environment due to the civil engineering works including the destruction of any trees along the route should be considered.
    Better to replace the 1.7 million cars with electric buses not forgetting the proposed short haul electric prop. aircraft.

  • Graham


    Used the Eurostar between London & Paris several times. Much quicker than plane & city centre to city centre. Never used aircraft within Europe always high speed rail.

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