Study Highlights Rail-Air Imbalance

A study released today by the European Regions Airline Association (ERA) raises doubts about the rationale for the clear political bias towards rail and High Speed Rail (HSR) and reveals massive rail subsidies 125 times higher than State aid granted to air transport. It finds no evidence that rail is always 'greener' or economically beneficial as a mode of transport for Europe and sheds serious doubt on the evidence used to justify policies which attempt to shift passengers from air to rail.
The Study, titled: Air and Rail: Setting the Record Straight environment, investment, mobility and political bias, uses extensive and independent research. It provides an objective comparison and examination of the merits of both air and rail in terms of their respective environmental impact, return on investment, competition and substitution, as well as the different regulatory approaches taken by policy makers for each mode.

The main findings of the study are:

  • annual State subsidies for rail in the EU-27 are 125 times higher than State aid granted to air transport
  • the average investment cost of a new runway builds just 30km of HSR track
  • the turnover of the air transport market in the 27 EU States is almost twice that of railways
  • EU airports and airlines offer 150,000 city pairs (routes) versus 100 from HSR
  • expanding the HSR network to link all major city pairs currently connected by at least 10 flights/day would require a 600% increase in the HSR network and result in less than 5% drop in flights demand by 2030
  • fair comparisons of CO2 emissions between air and rail are impossible due to the different sources of power, but rail's nuclear footprint has a massive impact and cannot be ignored
  • independent data show that, when taking the full life-cycle into account, rail has consistently higher emissions than air for CO, NOx, VOC and PM10
  • Unjustified differentiation exists in several areas, such as Air/Rail passenger rights legislation, security standards and funding of security costs
  • Rail and air can complement each other provided complementarity is based on fair competition and freedom of consumer choice
  • Investment would be better made in improving intermodality between the two modes.
Addressing journalists at today's press conference at the ERA General Assembly in Rome, Mike Ambrose, director general, said:
"For too long, politicians have favoured rail over air as a solution to many of the problems facing intra-European transport including congestion, environmental impact and investment programmes. That high speed rail is seen by key European decision-makers as a preferred alternative to air transport is more a result of doctrine than rational and transparent analyses.

This study attempts to set the record straight on many of these issues and in particular from a financial, environmental and policy perspective. The conclusion is clear both modes offer a solution to providing intra-European transport but the case for rail as the "preferred" mode by policy-makers and transport planners can no longer be justified.

"I hope that this study will lead to a more constructive and balanced debate on the future of air and rail in Europe, and provide policy-makers with the evidence they need to promote air transport as an equal (and in some cases better) means of delivering enhanced future mobility for European citizens."
Lesley Shepherd
European Regions Airline Association


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