Green travel: meet the low-cost railways taking on Europe’s airlines

Throughout the continent, low-cost rail corporations are launching routes to tempt passengers out of the skies. Are they profitable?

Prepare journey could tread extra calmly on the planet than emissions-belching vehicles and planes, however the oft-repeated lament is that it weighs heavy on the pockets. 

Not so Lumo. The no-frills, all-electric practice service launched a yr in the past to offer finances airways an 800-mile run for his or her cash on the hop between London and Edinburgh — the UK’s busiest home air route. 

And because it blows out the candles on its first birthday cake, the operator will get to eat it, too, as information reveals that trains are actually the popular choice for folks travelling between the English and Scottish capitals. 

Civil Aviation Authority and authorities practice ticket information means that, pre-pandemic, 65 per cent of passengers selected planes over trains between London and Edinburgh. Nonetheless, between April and July this yr, that choice had shifted to 54 per cent in favour of rail, rising to as a lot as 63 per cent in July alone. 

“Not solely have we attracted passengers to cleaner transport, we now have observed that different [rail] operators have additionally elevated their market share,” Lumo’s MD Martijn Gilbert instructed Constructive Information. “Collectively we now have satisfied the general public that the comfort, worth and environmental affect of rail is effectively value it.”

Lumo estimates that the 1m or so passengers who’ve travelled on its companies are equal to five,500 full flights, saving at the very least 120,000 tonnes of CO2.

Green travel

Lumo launched a yr in the past to a lot fanfare and has lots to have a good time on its first anniversary. Picture: Lumo

This echoes a 2021 study by the consumer group Which?. It discovered that trains belch out six occasions fewer emissions than planes on in style UK routes, however — and right here’s the kicker — had been 49 per cent dearer on common.  

Lumo helps tackle that. Its common ticket worth between London to Edinburgh is £37, which is aggressive with low-cost air fares. When you’re sufficiently ahead considering to ebook 12 weeks forward, you would possibly even snag considered one of a restricted variety of tickets for £19.99.

Rail aficionado Mark Smith, founding father of practice journey web site Man in Seat 61, was among the many first passengers to journey on Lumo’s inaugural journey up the east coast major line to Edinburgh final October. 

We have now satisfied the general public that the comfort, worth and environmental affect of rail is effectively value it

The agency affords solely customary class carriages, which Smith discovered “remarkably well-designed”, with loads of legroom, laptop computer tables and particular person studying lights. The previous rail business employee could be slightly biased. “I hate flying,” he stated. “I don’t do it in Britain or Europe. Planes aren’t correct journey actually.” 

Lumo, a part of Aberdeen-based transport big FirstGroup, is what’s referred to as an ‘open access’ provider. Such suppliers are granted authorities licenses to function on the situation that they provide one thing completely different to rival rail corporations (in Lumo’s case, London North Japanese Railway). Smith says this can be a situation that Lumo has greater than met with its low cost fares.

“Competitors has pushed up high quality, it’s pushed up frequency, it’s added a great deal of seats, it’s saved costs low,” he stated. “It’s grown the entire rail market and the airways have been the losers.”

Green travel

Avlo is considered one of various rail upstarts undercutting airways in Europe. Picture: Avlo

On the European continent, finances rail upstarts are nothing new. Smith cites the instance of Italy’s open entry operator Italo driving down intercity costs by as a lot as 25 per cent. In the meantime France and Spain have their very own state-run finances companies, Ouigo and Avlo.

Unlocking comparable untapped potential right here within the UK means making higher use of the prevailing capability in our rail networks, says George Davies, director of sustainable improvement on the Rail Security and Requirements Board.

“Capability actually is our good friend within the context of creating the railway extra engaging and optimised, and finally extra sustainable,” he stated. “In the intervening time I’d argue we’re not making the very best use of it, both for freight or passengers.”

It’s grown the entire rail market and the airways have been the losers

However plans are afoot. Grand Union Trains are partnering up with Spanish nationwide operator Renfe to bid for new lines linking London to Carmarthen in Wales and to Stirling in Scotland. 

Lumo, in the meantime, says that it hopes to take care of its 1m seats on the rail community yearly, creating greater than 100 new jobs over the subsequent decade.

Which all sounds exactly just like the form of rail service disruption we are able to get behind.

Essential picture: David Gubler 

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