Train companies are urging the Government to consider raising taxes on road and aviation fuel to cut carbon emissions and promote rail travel.
Industry body the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) wants a shake-up of transport tax policy to reflect “how polluting a journey really is”.
In a submission to the Government’s transport decarbonisation plan, it stated that road fuel duty has been frozen since March 2011 and jet fuel is exempt from tax.
This is in contrast to levies on electricity used to power trains more than doubling in the past four years, according to the RDG, which said taxes now make up 40% of total electricity costs for operators.
It claimed the rail industry is being “penalised” when it replaces diesel trains with cleaner electric trains, and pointed to studies showing airline passengers pay a much smaller proportion of the cost to the climate associated with their travel than users of other transport modes.
The proposals called on the Government to consider using increased taxes on air routes which are in direct competition with trains to reduce long-distance rail fares.
This would incentivise people to make greener choices when travelling in Britain or to international destinations easily accessible by rail such as Paris or Amsterdam, the RDG said.
It quoted Government figures published last year showing CO2 emissions per passenger per kilometre travelled are 41g for domestic rail and 254g for domestic flights.
RDG director of nations and regions Robert Nisbet said: “To help Britain reach its target of net zero emissions, transport taxes should reflect how polluting a journey really is and encourage people to make greener choices.
“Rail is already an environmentally friendly way to travel and a fairer playing field on tax combined with reform of fares regulations could see trains play an even bigger role in helping Britain to go green.”
Mike Childs, head of policy at environmental group Friends of the Earth, said: “The polluter pays principle is an essential tool for getting people out of planes and cars and onto trains, buses and bikes.
“It can’t be right that it’s more costly to do the right thing for the planet. Rail and bus fares need to be cheaper and cycling made safe. The money to achieve this could come from higher taxes on flying and gas-guzzling cars.”
One obstacle to taxing jet fuel is that it could lead to so-called tankering.
This would involve airlines filling their planes with as much fuel as possible at airports in countries where they would continue not to pay fuel tax – such as those in the European Union – resulting in increased emissions.
The aviation industry claims it is already heavily taxed through Air Passenger Duty APD).
A spokesman for trade association Airlines UK said: “The rail industry is subsidised to the tune of billions of pounds every year and is now being propped up by ministers to run empty trains.
“Now is not the time to raise taxes on any transport business, least of all a sector that already pays the highest rate of APD anywhere in Europe.”
The Department for Transport’s decarbonisation plan is due to be published later this year.