Trains, planes and the environment

The Scotsman is running a train vs plane competition/race tomorrow between two journalists making their way business class from the offices of the newspaper in Edinburgh to the Gherkin in the City of London, where they’ll be conducting an interview with persons as yet unknown.

Given that the event has a sponsor – East Coast – the winner seems set to be the train and parts of it seem geared to guarantee it: the plane traveller is flying to Heathrow, rather than somewhere more local to the City; the identity of the interviewee has to be accompanied while mobile and plane users cannot – yet – use mobiles in the air; and it’s clear that it’s not just speed that determines the winner. Still, given that East Coast is the people’s train company, that can be forgiven 🙂

As a regular traveller between Scotland and London – though certainly not business class – I’m naturally interested in the outcome. Flying is incredibly stressful but the key difference is the environmental aspects, with the train emitting 87% less CO2 emissions. And even if the plane is likely to be a bit quicker – travelling from Perth by public transport all the way, the earliest I can be in central London is 1030 by plane (though that’s taking a few risks!) compared to 1230 by train – the amount of the time saving weighs poorly against the environmental and stress costs of spending even such a short time in the air. Should Edinburgh and Glasgow be successful in winning their argument for high speed trains to be extended to Scotland from the London-Birmingham route that the government is currently prepared to support (though Network Rail had wanted to go further), the arguments on behalf of the train become even clearer, although evidence that the additional carbon-related costs of building the line only become viable if the trains gain a 62% market share, or more, of traffic on the route (it currently has just 15%) do need to be taken seriously into account.

So, the train – currently – wins for me every time. But I will be following the event with some interest.

[Edit 5 November: Yeah, the train unsurprisingly appeared to win the competition…]

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