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Train tickets costing a third more than flights, study shows

Train  A Class 222 Meridian diesel multiple unit number 222001 working a Midland Mainline service at Souldrop on the 12th November 2005.
Train tickets are 35% more expensive than plane tickets on domestic routes. Photo: PA/Alamy (Anthony Kay/Rail)

Train travellers are paying a premium on many routes, with train tickets costing on average a third more compared to domestic flights.

The government is cutting its air passenger duty in order to encourage new and cheaper domestic flights from 1 April, but Which? research shows that train travellers are already paying more.

The starkest difference in price was for the Edinburgh to Bournemouth route, a journey which costs a staggering 239% more to complete by train.

The cheapest return rail fare available costs £127, even when using split ticketing on the outward journey and an advance fare for the return. In contrast, the return flight costs just £38.


From tomorrow, (1 April) a cut to the air passenger duty (APD) for domestic flights will see airlines’ tax bills halved from £13 to £6.50 per passenger, with airlines incentivised to introduce more domestic routes as a result.

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Plane journeys emit twice the Co2 on average (118% more) when compared with travelling by train, but with train tickets on average 35% more expensive, it costs to go eco-friendly.

The largest difference in pollution when comparing rail with air was for journeys between Newcastle and Southampton. Per person, carbon emissions on this route average 64.5kg by train, and 242kg per person by plane, 275%.

This route was one of just three that are cheaper to complete by train, with a return ticket priced at £107 when using split tickets, compared with £175 to travel by air. However, the return rail journey would take over 11 hours, more than four times the duration by plane.

“As travellers become increasingly concerned about the environmental impact of their journeys, many face a difficult trade off between the price of their ticket and the cost to the planet, with just three out of ten journeys we looked at working out cheaper by rail,” Rory Boland, Which? travel editor, said.

“For those who prefer to travel by train, there are steps you can take to cut costs. Take the time to compare dates and times to see if cheaper fares are available, and look into what railcards you might be eligible for, as these can save you up to a third of the ticket price. You may be able to make further savings by checking if split-ticketing is an option on your chosen route,” he added.

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The only other two journeys found to be cheaper by rail were on the Edinburgh to Newquay route, and the Bristol to Aberdeen route. The former costs 13% less at £250 for a return fare, but would take more than seven times as long to complete, with a total return journey time of 22 hours and 2 minutes. The Bristol to Aberdeen route meanwhile costs just over a fifth less by rail (21%) but takes 18 and a half hours for a return trip, more than six times as long as by plane.

Overall, the most polluting plane routes, according to Atmosfair, were Bristol to Aberdeen (351kg of CO2), Edinburgh to Newquay (319kg of CO2) and London to Inverness (306kg of CO2).

Watch: All aboard the Flying Scotsman

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