Monday, June 02, 2008

Flying high. Like Icarus...

The Nameless One has a really beautiful and pretty fucking comprehensive fisking of Plane Stupid, a bunch of clueless eco-protestors with disgustingly totalitarian instincts, who live up to their moniker.

Whilst the Nameless One pretty much nails all of the ill-informed, totalitarian bullshit that they spout in this Grauniad interview, I would like to pick up one small point.
"I fully appreciate that at the moment, for an ordinary person making choices on their personal circumstances, which is exactly what you would expect people to do, flying from London to Edinburgh makes sense, because of gross distortions in the travel market," Murray says.

Murray is, of course, entirely right: there are gross distortions in the travel market. However, I suspect that Murray would not appreciate anyone looking too hard at those distortions. One assumes that Murray would not stop people travelling from London to Edinburgh and so, presumably, he would prefer that they take some other mode of transport; given that he is a eco-loon, I will assume that Murray would prefer that people used trains rather than cars.

Which presents us with a problem.

Because, you see, the single biggest distortion in the travel market is the massive fucking subsidy given to the railways; Network Rail derives a substantial portion of its income from the state, and all of the train operating companies rake in tens of millions of pounds in subsidies.

Which would, of course, lead one to conclude that were such subsidies removed, the price of rail tickets would rise considerably and, as a result, it would be even more prudent to fly to Edinburgh.

Which is not, I suspect, what Plane Stupid really meant. But then, we have already established that they are a bit thick.


Mark Wadsworth said...

Does anybody know what the relative C02 emissions are between flying E to L or taking the train?

I mean on a full-cost basis, including the energy used to manufacture all the rails that have to be replaced every few years, the electricity or diesel needed to power the trains, the relative weight of trains-to-passenger compared to aircraft-per-passenger, electricity to light up all the railway stations etc etc?

Assuming that anybody still gives a stuff about CO2, I would not be surprised if flying were more CO2 efficient in terms of grams-per-passenger mile.

Antipholus Papps said...

DK, do your calculations factor in the absence of tax on aviation fuel?

Anonymous said...

because i have nothing better to do, i've just worked out the plane's economy:

London to Edinburgh is 332 miles or 534 km. A fully loaded Airbus (as used by easyjet) can carry 157 passengers and uses 2tonnes of fuel per hour.

Edinburgh is about 1 hour's flight away, so each of the 157 passengers uses 12 litres of fuel (assuming 1L = 1Kg). 12 litres to travel 534 km is 44.5 kilometres per litre.

Not sure how this compares to the train though

Anonymous said...

I travelled from Glasgow to London for a conference a week and a half ago.

By train, it was almost £400, nearly six hours each way and I would have had to stay overnight in London.

By plane, it was somewhat less than £100, it took just over an hour each way and I got home to my own bed before midnight.

Unless and until someone can make it more viable - both economically and in terms of time consumption - for me to take the train, I'll be flying. You pay less and you get there faster; it's a fuckin' no-brainer.

Longrider said...

I wish I knew the answer to Mark's question. I suspect that it wouldn't be too good for the Rail industry.

All that said, for international travel to France, I now take the train in preference to flying. The cost is offset by not having to hang about for hours waiting to board and putting up with the paranoid security arrangements. While a flight to Montpelier is about three quarters of an hour from Stanstead, the overall journey from Bristol is about the same overall - twelve to thirteen hours. The extra cost is worth it for the comfort and lack of stress. Who gives a fuck about carbon footprints? (dons tin hat).

Budgie said...


Talking about eco-loons have you seen this?

D Telegraph By Caroline Gammell
Last Updated: 2:25PM BST 02/06/2008 :

"The Bishop of Stafford, the Rt Rev Gordon Mursell, said a refusal to face the truth about climate change was akin to locking up future generations and "throwing away the key".

He insisted he was not accusing those who ignored the environment of being child abusers, but added that such shocking parallels were needed to make people aware of their responsibility."

Also featured on BBC and presumably elsewhere.

ade said...

STN to EDI would cost me £195 in the car (or £80 before tax).

Plane is £100 (or £76 before tax).

Train is £105 (ish - doesn't seem to be a rail terminus at EDI?) on the very cheapest tickets, but would cost FAR MORE if the subsidy system wasn't there.

So: Plane wins on convenience (1hr flight + 1hr arsing around in security = 4hrs grand total journey time.

Car = 7hrs each way, so 14hrs.

Train = 7hrs, plus you have to walk to the airport = another 2 hours. 18hrs in total.

Tell me again which fucking mode of transport ought to be subsidised*?

* Spot the deliberate error

B Ellis said...

antipholus papps...

The lack of tax on aviation fuel is as a result of an international agreement, not just UK govt policy, and in any case the Air Passenger Duty is set at about the correct level for the pollution caused (see Tim Worstall's blog for details).

It may also be worth noting that diesel trains pay about 6p per litre of duty on the fuel used against 60p or so per litre for cars.

Gecko said...

I think the distortion is there, both forms of mass transport are subsidised, effectively. Cheap fuel for mass transport, massively expensive for private users. (and the trains get extra subsidy and still perform crap). Remove all the subsidies and lets see how much air and rail travel really cost with oil at $130 a barrel.

chris said...

No being taxed is not a subsidy.

A subsidy is where you are given somebody else's money.

Not being taxed is where you do not have some of your own taken away.

To say that not being taxed is a subsidy is to say that some of your money actually already belongs to the government. Which it doesn't since the government did not earn it, you did.

John B said...

I did an approximation to these sums a while ago, as it happens. A 767 in standard flight mode uses 8x the fuel per hour of an 8-car Class 220 diesel train.

A 220 carries 376 people, whereas a 767 in JAL short-haul configuration carries 270.

(note: a JAL 767 is the most space-efficient plane in use; actual London-Edinburgh planes will carry fewer people for similar emissions. Diesel trains are less fuel-efficient than electric trains and 220s are among the thirstiest; nor do they spend the whole journey at full power)

[source data here stats here, from when I looked them up for something else]

An average train takes 4 hours London to Edinburgh; an average plane takes 1 hour. So on pure fuel consumption per seat, the train is more than twice as fuel-efficient than the plane even if you rig the sums massively against the train, as is done here. If lighting [cos airports don't have lights] and maintenance make up the difference, then I'm the King of Siam.

WRT the original post also note that National Express East Coast, the rail operator between London and Edinburgh, is paying well over £100m to the DfT each year for the right to operate. That's in addition to the money that it pays Network Rail for track access.

Route-by-route rail accounting is difficult, but it's generally accepted that the most heavily subsidised routes are lightly-travelled rural ones (per passenger, but overall sums are fairly low) and London commuter ones (which take up the most absolute cash). So it wouldn't surprise me at all if NXEC's track access fees were actually subsidising the rest of the network.

In other, libertarian-friendly words, the reason fares between London and Edinburgh are so high [or can be, if you don't bother booking in advance like you would for a plan - as it happens I travelled regularly between London and Edinburgh for two years, usually at peak times, and never paid more than £100 return for my train ticket] is because the government is taking its cut of the proceeds, not because intercity trains are unviable...

John B said...

Editing cock-up - meant to point out in 3rd paragraph that in fact, most London-Edinburgh trains are electric.

John B said...

Editing cock-up #2 - final paragraph = "for a plane" not "for a plan"

Longrider said...

Editing cock-up - meant to point out in 3rd paragraph that in fact, most London-Edinburgh trains are electric.

Whereas all the Bristol - Edinburgh/Glasgow ones are diesel. We're primitive down the West country, no electrification ;)

John B said...

True - indeed, they're precisely the model of train for which the stats above are for.

[IMX the train is a realistic alternative to the plane in terms of time, money and comfort for London-Edinburgh, and most shorter journeys out of London. For trips like Bristol-Edinburgh, the only reasons to take the train are that you've managed to get hold of an insanely cheap ticket, or really like trains, or really hate both planes and driving...]

Chalcedon said...

A leading anti-aviation activist has secretly flown to New York to hold meetings with American airport protesters - and see the sights.

Former public-schoolgirl Katrina Forrester, who helped co-ordinate campaign group Plane Stupid's third runway protest on the roof of the House of Commons in February, boarded a BA flight out of Heathrow on Tuesday.

She flew to JFK airport in New York to begin a series of meetings with American anti-aviation campaigners.

Hypocrasy? Big time!