CO₂ Benefits of Shifting Short-Haul Flights to Rail Are Limited, New Study Confirms

The Airports Council International (ACI Europe) has disclosed through its most recent press release that the CO₂ benefits of shifting short-haul flights to rail are limited, and they generate other environmental, social, and economic costs.

Transportation, especially aviation, has come under increased scrutiny due to the increase in global decarbonisation targets.

In order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transport, it has been proposed that a shift needs to be made from air to rail. This shifting has been encouraged through massive investments in rail infrastructure as well as by taxes and bans on short-haul flights in several countries.

However, despite taking such measures, ACI Europe has revealed that a new study commissioned by the European aviation association and carried out by economics and finance consultancy Oxera confirms that the extent to which air travel can be substituted with rail travel is limited, report.

“The report, “Short-haul flying and sustainable connectivity”, highlights the fact that the picture is far more complex than simply shifting from one transport mode to another,” ACI Europe emphasises.

ACI explains that building new railway lines has a very high environmental cost due to the carbon dioxide emissions associated with steel production and cement, as well as from the fuel used for the construction of infrastructure. Moreover, the study also identifies a major impact on biodiversity and damage to wildlife habitats.

Apart from the above-mentioned, it has been noted that for many short-haul air routes that have a lower traffic frequency or at airports that do not have a good high-speed rail connection, rail can not be economically attainable as it is based on a different business model that has lower speed and occupancy rates.

Additionally, there is also no guarantee that passengers will choose to switch from air to rail. Some might choose to travel by car instead, which could lead to even higher CO₂ emissions.

“Importantly, aviation decarbonisation will be well underway by the time comparable rail infrastructure is deployed. Hybrid-electric aircraft will be trialled first on regional routes by 2030, bringing CO₂ emissions down by 50 per cent per flight in that market segment,” ACI states.

Thus, this means that as both sectors – the rail and the aviation sector – decarbonise, the gap between air and rail CO₂ emissions will be reduced even more. Short-haul flights within Europe are the routes most likely to decarbonise first. They will play a significant riles in rolling out lower carbon disruptive technologies first, this way accelerating wider decarbonisation rollout.

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