As part of a rail related LinkedIn group that I am a member of, I came across a discussion on a presentation that Mike Ambrose, the Director General of the ERA (Europe Regions Airline Association) gave to the recent press conference for the General Assembly of the ERA entitled "Air and Rail: Setting the record straight on environment, investment, mobility and political bias" (a link to download the presentation if you are interested is here).
I'll give him some credit on some of his points, but the summary is that the "study" that they performed is extremely one-sided and biased. I'm not saying that we are an uninterested party in the debate, but I would like to think that we at least represent a true picture of the situation for the rail versus air story. I have to admit that I have only seen the summary presentation and not the whole report, but some thoughts on Mr Ambrose's presentation are below.
State Aid to rail vs air - fair point
Coincidentally, I just recently had this conversation with my wife while we were on a plane. In Mr Ambrose's presentation, he points out that in Europe, government assistance / investment in air is about 1% that of rail. I'm not sure how this developed exactly, but particularly given the frequency of air travel, it is interesting that the air industry has been largely private, whereas the rail (and road for that matter) industries are heavily government subsidized if not fully supported. I would guess this is because when air travel was introduced it was seen as a luxury item, where as rail and car travel is a "necessity". I'm not sure, but it is a valid point.
Unless the point that is made in the full body is different to the one I took from the presentation, I'm not sure what Mr. Ambrose is trying to argue with this one. He points out that the air network coverage is multiple times better / more extensive than the rail one. However, reading it, I was struck that my conclusion from that data would be that it quite rightly justifies the investment in rail. To create some level of parity between the two forms of transport. I'm clearly missing the message here.
Mr Ambrose makes the point that "fair comparison of CO2 emissions between air and rail is not possible due to the different sources of power". Although a true exact comparison may not be possible, any data I have seen suggests that the emmissions from rail are about 10% of those for a similar journey by air. How accurate eo you have to be when the differences are that stark? Mr. Ambrose then goes into a rant on the dangers of nuclear power, which just strikes me as a little desperate.
The statement used in the presentation is "Rail investments have often resulted in huge losses for taxpayers". However, the data that Mr Ambrose uses to support this statement is the passenger volume required to breakeven in the first year of operation. The whole point of government support for high speed rail is that it is a long term investment in the future. I'm not sure how the first year can be used as the only measure of success. For example, I know that the Channel tunnel estimates at the time of building were significantly higher than the first few years of operations. However, Eurostar continues to break ridership records most years, continuing to show the value of high speed rail on these regional routes.
I understand that the mission of the ERA is to promote air travel, but it seems a bit silly to be quite so one-sided and then call it a "study" as if it involved any science or research. I continue to believe that high-speed rail will be the future of travel on regional routes, particularly between major cities. However, I do agree with Mr Ambrose that there is a place for complementarity between the modes of transport. And I do agree that the distribution of rail tickets has historically been challenging. But that is precisely what SilverRail is trying to solve!