Train to overtake plane for inter-city travel

AIR travel between UK cities is falling in popularity while the numbers journeying by train is soaring, according to new figures out today.

If the trend continues, the percentage of travellers taking the train to major cities could soon be higher than those flying, the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC) said.

Increased check-in times, cuts in business travel budgets and a desire to be more environmentally friendly have all been cited as reasons for the move to rail.

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A spokesman for ATOC said: "Rail passengers do not have to put up with lengthy check-in and security measures at airports. And with Glasgow or Edinburgh to London, journey times by rail having fallen while offering city centre to city centre travel, unlike flying.

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

According to the ATOC figures, 27 per cent of people travelling from Edinburgh to London opt to go by train, against 17 per cent in 2006. The percentage of people making the journey by air has fallen by 20.8 per cent over the same period.

The percentage travelling from Glasgow to London by train has doubled to 20 per cent in 2010. Over the same period, the market share of the Glasgow to London air routes has fallen by more than 20 per cent.

Over the past four years, the percentage of people choosing to travel by train on the ten most popular routes in the UK has risen from 29 per cent to 44 per cent - the equivalent of seven million journeys.

Edward Welsh, director of corporate affairs at ATOC, said: "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.

"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 ten main domestic air routes combined."

Virgin Trains spokesman Allan McLean said: "Passengers trying trains instead of planes for the first time in years are often surprised to find how much better the rail journey can be compared to what they remember. Our trains are more frequent and faster than they were before the timetable was improved just over two years ago."

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Per Fisher, a spokesman for Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: "It's very encouraging to see that people are discovering the advantages of train travel as an alternative to flying.

"Travelling by train is much more environmentally friendly, and more pleasant and less stressful.And once you factor in the check-in queues and palavers at flight security, the journey from London to Edinburgh can be just as quick by train.

"We would like to see improved rail links and services between cities if rail is to play an effective role in substituting both road and air travel, but these new numbers are a positive development."

A spokesman for BA Scotland said: "We operate 41 services a day from Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen and we fly millions of passengers a year. There is still an enormous demand whether it is business travel, people going point-to-point or people flying to London to connect with long-haul services."

A spokesman for Edinburgh Airport said: "Ultimately it is for passengers to decide which product to use when travelling within the UK. Both have their merits, depending on the nature of the journey and passenger requirements."