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Planes are significantly cheaper than trains

Summary:
An interesting little finding here:Train trips in the UK are on average 50 per cent more expensive than flying on the same routes, forcing travellers to choose between price and the environment, a new study has found. Taking the train is more expensive on eight of the 10 most popular routes across the UK, according to research by consumer organisation Which?.The biggest price difference was in a plane fare between Birmingham and Newquay, at £67, and a train ticket at £180, more than 2.5 times as expensive. However, travelling by train would emit just a fifth of the carbon emissions that would be produced by flying on that route, the consumer outlet said.The ‘plane is cheaper in that cost charged to the consumer. But there is that little point of the costs of the externality, the CO2

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An interesting little finding here:

Train trips in the UK are on average 50 per cent more expensive than flying on the same routes, forcing travellers to choose between price and the environment, a new study has found.

Taking the train is more expensive on eight of the 10 most popular routes across the UK, according to research by consumer organisation Which?.

The biggest price difference was in a plane fare between Birmingham and Newquay, at £67, and a train ticket at £180, more than 2.5 times as expensive. However, travelling by train would emit just a fifth of the carbon emissions that would be produced by flying on that route, the consumer outlet said.

The ‘plane is cheaper in that cost charged to the consumer. But there is that little point of the costs of the externality, the CO2 emissions. Fortunately, we already have a system that deals with this, Air Passenger Duty. This is £13 on a domestic flight.

Emissions - just to be rough about it - are 50 to 100 kg on a domestic flight. From the Stern Review we know the social cost of carbon, $80 (or perhaps £60 today) per tonne CO2-e. APD is more than covering this externality.

We can and should go further too. Passengers on the rail network, roughly enough, cover the operating costs of said network through their ticket payments. There is considerable subsidy to the capital costs of the network from taxpayers. Aviation gains little subsidy from the taxpayers - no, we can’t shout that avgas is tax free because so, near enough, is train diesel etc. Plus, the train isn’t paying anything at all for that externality of emissions while aviation is more than covering it.

That is, when including all costs, aviation over certain distances is cheaper than train travel over the same distances. It’s also quicker, reducing the time costs to the passengers.

At which point one possible observation is how remarkable is that? A 20th century technology is better than a 19th century one? Even, one that really got going in the 1950s is better than one that did so in the 1840s? Hush now, isn’t that a surprise?

Another observation is that the ‘planes are the better technology, all things considered. So why is it that we’ve all these demands for the constriction of the better and the subsidy and expansion of the worse?

No, carbon doesn’t cut it, we’ve already internalised that through the APD.

Anyone with any answers might consider jotting them down on a postcard for Grant Shapps. We do have this vague feeling that policy based upon facts is going to work better than that based upon shibboleths.

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Tim Worstall
Tim Worstall is a British-born writer and Senior Fellow of the Adam Smith Institute. Worstall is a regular contributor to Forbes and the Register. He has also written for the Guardian, the New York Times, PandoDaily, the Daily Telegraph blogs, the Times, and The Wall Street Journal. In 2010 his blog was listed as one of the top 100 UK political blogs by Total Politics.

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