London-Edinburgh rail success proves grounding flights is possible

According to the latest American Express Global Business Travel Ground Monitor survey, key UK intercity train routes are thriving following new services and fare reductions.

a train track with a bunch of rocks on it

In 2019, airlines remained the number one choice for passengers looking to travel between London and Edinburgh – a journey of 400miles. Rail at this time accounted for just one-third of all trips. 

But by 2022 the situation had changed significantly, with 54% of journeys on the route taking place via train, thanks in part to the launch of budget operator Lumo. Offering significantly cheaper tickets compared with former-incumbent franchisee and now competitor LNER, both providers also proudly tout their low carbon credentials when compared with air travel. 

According to figures from The Trainline, an independent booking platform, the average rail trip to Edinburgh from London would save almost 51kg of CO2 compared with driving, and 132kg of CO2 compared with flying. The idea that this situation is changing travel preferences is supported by rocketing demand for sustainable travel, the rise in slow travel trends, and several recent studies that show many people actively avoid purchases with a significant negative climate impact. 

Price wise, differences are more favourable to trains too, which clearly will have a significant effect on passenger decisions. Average airfares for London to Edinburgh routes are between £167 and £219 return according to planning and aggregator site AirTreks. By rail this drops to £66, with some tickets available from under £35 each way. Analysts have consistently pointed to an urgent need for more heavily subsidised train fares to encourage more to switch from air travel on shorter routes, with France introducing a ban on domestic flights where the same journey is possible by rail in under two-and-a-half hours or less. 

‘As a core element of managed travel programs, ground transportation plays a key role in the end-to-end journey, and has significant impact on the traveler experience. Road and rail are also increasingly in the spotlight for companies wanting to make their programs more sustainable,’ said Gerardo Tejado, Senior Vice President Professional Services, Amex GBT. ‘In this report, our Global Business Consulting ground specialists share data-driven insights and advice to support the travel function as it becomes more central to organizations.’

More on travel and emissions: 

‘We have to fly less’: Planes, trains and climate-friendly travel


$2.1trillion and fleet upgrades needed for net zero aviation by 2050

From Schipol to Boston, the private jet wars are on

Image: Nick Fewings



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