CONFIRMING that Britain’s next high-speed rail line from London to the North will operate trains at 250 mph (400 km/h). Transport Secretary Lord Andrew Adonis has now declared his aim of ending all domestic air travel in Britain.
“For reasons of carbon reduction and wider environmental benefits, it is manifestly in the public interest that we systematically replace short-haul aviation with high-speed rail,” Lord Adonis said in an interview with The Guardian newspaper on 5 August.
He said his first objective was to transfer domestic air passengers to rail, but later the focus would be on short-haul passengers to nearby Continental destinations, such as Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam and Cologne.
Lord Adonis confirmed that plans for the first stage of a new route from London to the North and Scotland — initially as far as the West Midlands — would be produced by the end of this year. With cross-party support he said the line to the West Midlands could be built by 2020 — five years earlier than previous estimates.
He said he is considering the possibility of funding the London-West Midlands first stage, estimated to cost around £7 billion, with a public-private partnership. “Other countries which have made high-speed rail a priority have found it affordable by allocating long-term infrastructure funding to it. The French have decided to allocate €16bn (£13.7bn) to high-speed rail between now and 2020. It looks to me the more you build it the cheaper it becomes.”
He added: “I would like to see short-haul aviation – not just domestic aviation, but short-haul aviation – progressively replaced by rail, including high-speed rail,” Adonis said. “If we want to see [this] progressive replacement … then we have got to have a high-speed rail system that links our major conurbations and makes them far more accessible to Europe, too.”
Last month the government announced plans to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 80 per cent by 2050. Against that backdrop, Lord Adonis told The Guardian rail should take priority over air travel.
However, The Guardian reported, Lord Adonis’ high-speed rail ambitions would not undermine the Government’s aviation policy that calls for new runways at Stansted and Heathrow over the next decade.
“If you look at projections for long-haul air demand the third runway just on long-haul demand alone is justified,” Lord Adonis said. Air passenger numbers will nearly double to 465 million a year by 2030, according to UK Government estimates
Meanwhile, airlines were skeptical about Lord Adonis’ plans to shift short-haul passengers from planes to trains.
Michael O’Leary, the outspoken chief executive of Ryanair, Europe’s largest short-haul airline, warned against making cross-Channel rail services the main conduit between the UK and Europe.
“It is insane,” he said. “The only link you have is one highly priced tunnel [the Channel Tunnel]. People are not going to travel to the UK regions including the Lake District and Cornwall on a train that only stops at Kent and London St Pancras,” he said.
Mr O’Leary added that profitable airlines were already being hit hard by air passenger duty while the rail network received billions of pounds in subsidies.
“On [return] domestic flights from Glasgow to London passengers are paying £20 in taxes while they continue to subsidise the shit out of the railways,” he said in characteristic style, adding: “Substituting one form of transport that is heavily taxed for a form of transport that is heavily subsidised is not the answer.”
The International Air Transport Association, which represents more than 200 major airlines worldwide, including British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, said a country that had taken decades to plan a third runway at Heathrow airport could take even longer to plan a high-speed rail network.