ERA 2011: Air & Rail study by ERA confirms imbalance in EU transport policy

The European Regions Airline Association (ERA) has released Air and Rail: Setting the Record Straight, a study which shows an imbalance in the way the two transport modes are treated by the EU and the Commission and also confirms that the political bias towards rail – and high speed rail (HSR) in particular – has not actually resulted in successful modal substitution despite the subsidies poured in.

Introducing the report, ERA’s director general Mike Ambrose emphasised that ERA is not seeking air to become the ‘preferred’ transport mode. “Rail has a significant role to play in Europe’s transport system. We just want a better balance in policy and funding between the transport modes,” he explained.

The study reveals massive rail subsidies 125 times higher than State funding for air transport needs. Moreover, it deduces that there is no evidence that rail is always greener or economically beneficial as a mode of transport for Europe. “This is a report that relies very heavily on references from key observers,” Ambrose noted.

The ERA DG also pointed out that at a time of limited public funds, politicians should be asking where those funds should go to get the best for the public.

He picked up on the conclusion that all the policies directed towards modal substitution have failed. “Across Europe there are 150,000 city pairs operated by ERA members, compared with 100 city pairs provided by HSR.

On emissions and other environmental matters, Ambrose said it is often difficult to get a fair comparison, but that this report has tried to do so. “Rail has, for example, a massive nuclear footprint. But the matter of life cycle costs it is rarely asked what the decommissioning costs are for those nuclear plants which supply the power for rail. In the UK, the decommissioning costs are estimated to be £100 billion over 50 years. That can buy an awful lot of aircraft and airports.

“In a society strapped for cash, the average investment cost for a new runway will build just 30 km of HSR track as that averages €12m-€15m per kilometre. Moreover, expanding the HSR network to link all major city pairs currently connected by at least 10 flights a day would require a 600% increase in the HSR network and would result in a drop of less than 5% in demand for flights by 2030,” Ambrose added.

Finally, the DG stressed, “Complementarity is based on fair competition and freedom of choice,” and called upon the EU and EC to recognise that.

“I hope that this study will lead to a more constructive and balanced debate on the future of air and rail in Europe, and provide policymakers with the evidence they need to promote air transport as an equal (and in some cases better) means of delivering enhanced future mobility for European citizens,” he concluded.

Bernie Baldwin, editor, Low-Fare & Regional Airlines/

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