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Shift from air to rail heralds ‘turning point’

Shift from air to rail heralds ‘turning point’

Catching the train could soon be more popular than going by air on the main routes between the UK’s big cities if the shift from flying to the railways continues at its current rate, new figures published today suggest.

According to the first full analysis of the latest industry figures, rail’s market share on the 10 most popular domestic air routes in 2010 grew to 44% - up from 29% in 2006.

If the trend of recent years continues, train companies say that rail’s market share on the 10 most popular domestic air routes combined could rise to above 50% within the next 12 months, heralding a ‘turning point’ in how people travel between the UK’s main cities.

The findings, published today by the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC) and based on a comparison of rail industry figures with data published by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), confirm a long-term change in the nation’s travel patterns.

The assessment shows that on these 10 routes, rail has the largest market share on the London to Newcastle and London to Manchester routes and rail’s overall market share on many of the remaining routes has seen increases over the same period, many of them significant.


Between 2006 and 2010, total journeys by rail on these routes rose by 42%, increasing by 2m to just over 7m journeys. Over the same period, the total number of domestic air journeys on those domestic routes fell by 27%, or 3.25m, to around 9m in 2010. Over the last two years, there has been a particular surge in rail travel on these routes, with train journeys rising by 25%.

Tough financial times, the increasing availability of cheap Advance fares - around 800,000 are sold each week - and the fact that train travel is often seen as a ‘greener’ option than flying, have all prompted the shift. 

For example:
• For London to Manchester, rail’s market share rose from 69% in 2008 to 79% in 2010
• For Birmingham to Edinburgh, rail’s market share rose from 14% in 2008 to 31% in 2010
• For London to Glasgow, rail’s market share has risen from 12% in 2008 to 20% in 2010

Edward Welsh, Director of Corporate Affairs at ATOC, said: “In what is a highly competitive market between different forms of transport, more and more people are opting to catch a train rather than a plane to travel between the UK’s major cities. If the trend continues, we could be little more than a year away from the crucial turning point when rail becomes more popular than air on the 10 main domestic air routes combined.”

“Whether on business or a day trip, visiting friends and family, or heading to university, passengers are increasingly turning their back on out of town airports and opting instead for city-centre to city-centre travel.

“Improved journey times, more frequent services, good value deals and recognition of its green credentials all mean rail’s popularity has steadily climbed on these routes.”