Huge Shift From Planes to Trains on London-Scotland Routes

CC BY 2.0. Joshua Brown

The shift has prevented 680,000 tonnes of carbon emissions over the past decade, apparently.

I recently saw an exasperated response to a tweet about Elon Musk's proposed hyperloop: "For heavens sake," tweeted the tweeter. "Just build high speed rail."

It was, I think, a fair comment. Especially in the United States. While the hyperloop may one day bring us super fast and convenient transportation with very low emissions, it's easy to forget that the reason that rapid intercity transportation by rail is rarely possible here is not because trains are bad, but because we haven't invested in a modern passenger train system.

In the UK, however, things are a little different, at least on some of the mainline routes. (Don't get me started on regional train services in East Yorkshire.) And because the country has been willing to invest in high speed rail infrastructure, people are willing to use it. In fact, a new report from Transform Scotland (and sponsored by Virgin Rail) has found a growth from 20% to 33% in market share for rail between 2005 and 2015 on routes between London and central Scotland (Edinburgh and Glasgow).

This shift alone has saved 681,064 tonnes of carbon emissions, and further savings are expected as demand continues to grow and as new, lower emission trains are introduced:

"Further emissions savings can be expected through the introduction of the new ‘Azuma’ trains on the East Coast route. We estimate that while a flight from Edinburgh to London emits 177kg CO2 per passenger, and existing trains (‘HSTs’) emit 34kg per passenger, that an Azuma will emit only 28kg — 84% less than a flight."

The report calls for continued investment and ongoing promotion of rail as a realistic, viable and convenient option for medium distance passenger travel. Wouldn't it be nice if the US followed suit?