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Who Says There is no Alternative?’ is a document prepared by John Stewart, then-‘chair’ of the Campaign for Better Transport, in 2008, for the Rail Maritime and Transport (RMT) trade union. It argued that proposals to expand Heathrow Airport with a third runway would be unnecessary if there were serious government-led investment in (high speed) rail as part of a coordinated transport system.

High-speed rail would create tens of thousands of jobs across the country, including new jobs at Heathrow. It would be a win-win solution: an environmentally friendlier option than airport expansion which at the same time boosted the economy, protected employment levels at Heathrow and created jobs across the country.

When the government’s HS2 scheme was published in 2010, the Campaign for Better Transport took a noncommittal position. Perhaps they cottoned onto the fact that the HS2–Heathrow connection was targeted at drawing in travellers from the North, and would make a third runway more (not less) likely. However, the RMT recently dusted off ‘Who Says’, and presented it to the All Party Parliamentary Group for High Speed Rail. The paper claimed that the journey time tipping point (for passengers switching from air to rail) had recently changed from three hours to between four and four-and-a-half hours for business travel,

The French railway, SNCF, has found that on journeys of less than four-and-a-half hours, where their trains compete with airlines, their share of the market is over 50%. This is backed up by other European rail companies, which are capturing more than 60% of the business market from airlines on four hour journeys.”

and many of the most-flown destinations served from Heathrow were short-haul and potentially substitutable by high speed rail.

Replacing Short-Haul Flights at Heathrow
========================================
Well over a third of all flights using Heathrow are short-haul. A study carried out by the campaign group HACAN showed that of a total of 473,000 flights which used the airport in 2006, 100,000 served 12 destinations where there was already a viable rail alternative and a further 100,000 flights went to places where an improved rail service could provide an alternative. If a lot of these flights were replaced by rail, that would free up the space at Heathrow to bring in more long-distance flights without any need to expand the airport.

The figures in the HACAN report make for startling reading

Paris 50/60 flights a day to and from Heathrow
Amsterdam** 50
Edinburgh 40
Manchester 36
Brussels 30
Glasgow 28
Newcastle 12
Leeds/Bradford 10
Rotterdam** 6
Durham/Tees Valley 6

* the figures are those of a fairly typical day but will vary throughout the year

** Amsterdam and Rotterdam have been included because the high-speed line from Brussels to Amsterdam is imminent

Both Edinburgh and Glasgow are reachable by train from London in four and a half hours, and according to the CBT paper, travel duration by air has higher variability. So following the reasoning used by Mr Stewart, 350 km/h high speed rail is not required between London and Scotland’s central belt; classic rail is fast enough.

The survival of ‘residual’ flights between London and places like Manchester and Tees Valley suggests that business travel isn’t purely dimensioned by time. It’s known that businesspeople’s travel is a component of Ryanair’s business, even though its services tend to make use of lesser connected and more remote airports.

Written by beleben

May 31, 2012 at 9:27 pm

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