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Rail overtakes plane as most popular method of transport between Edinburgh-London; Glasgow-London must now do the same

Published 02 November 2022 by Rachel McFarlane

For the first time in many decades, rail has overtaken flying as the most popular mode of transport between Edinburgh and London. Between April and August 2022, 57% of travellers took the journey by train instead of plane. This is up by more than 20% from pre-pandemic levels, when 35% of passengers chose the train.

We warmly welcome this news. In the sustainable transport movement wins are often few and far between, and it’s definitely important to acknowledge this positive shift in travel behaviour. The media headlines that emerged last week – Rail overtakes air on Edinburgh-London route’, ‘Trains are now more popular than planes for London-Edinburgh trips’, ‘More than half of London-Edinburgh travellers now going by train’ – were a refreshing change to the stream of negative coverage that has plagued the UK’s rail industry in recent months. The shift to rail is particularly impressive in light of the pandemic and subsequent rail strikes.

How has this been achieved? Some of it must be due to a hugely effective marketing campaign led by LNER, and an increase in awareness of the value of rail through initiatives such as #ThinkRailFirst, in addition to the launch of new budget rail company Lumo. Perhaps people are also becoming more aware of the environmental damage that flying creates, through campaigns such as our own Travel Smart.

In saying this, it’s still important to note that on the Glasgow to London line, the percentage of passengers choosing train remains well below 50%, with the majority of people still opting to take the plane from Scotland’s largest city. 

It is Transform’s position that this must change. Next week we are publishing a list of new priorities that will shape our focus for the next couple of years. One of our priorities will be to see rail carry 50% of central belt-London travel by 2025. The new data on modal shift between Edinburgh-London gives us confidence that our priority can be achieved, and that rail will overtake road and air to become the most popular way to travel.

Transform’s rail spokesperson Paul Tetlaw notes:

Transport remains the largest source of climate emissions in Scotland at 29%. Therefore, reducing this wherever possible is vital if we are to reach the climate targets set out by the Scottish Government. 

Given the United Nations Climate Change committee published a press release last week stating: ‘Climate Plans Remain Insufficient: More Ambitious Action Needed Now’, we must strive for better. We need only look across the English Channel to see strong Climate leadership in France’s decision to ban short-haul flights*.

“We are in a Climate Emergency. This is not time for business-as-usual, it’s time to enact real change through both bold and transformative policymaking and investment decisions. In doing so, we can expect to see even more people opting for rail between Scotland’s central belt-London trips.”

We look forward to publishing our new set of organisational priorities and associated marketing materials at our 25th Anniversary celebrations next week. Until then, here’s a sneak preview of our icon that will accompany our priority: rail to carry 50% of central belt-London travel by 2025

*This is for journeys where a train or bus alternative can be made in two and a half hours or less.