Rail travel costs 358% more than driving, yet triples carbon savings

Rail travel costs 358% more than driving, yet triples carbon savings

New data has revealed the pressing dilemma of cutting costs or carbon emissions for Brits, as train travel is discovered to be 358% more expensive than driving.

In response to a 4.9% rail fare hike in March 2024, many UK commuters and travellers are opting for more cost-effective modes of transport. Despite being the lowest carbon option, the ever-rising costs of rail fares no longer justify travelling by train for many travellers. What is the true carbon impact, and how much are people really saving?

To find out, Innovative Energy Consultants has analysed 11 journeys to major cities in the UK and compared the financial and environmental costs of travelling via car, train, and plane for two people.

The undeniable financial savings of driving 

The research reveals an average journey between cities in the UK costs £34.19 in petrol for two people and £156.38 for two train tickets. This means travelling via train is 358% more expensive than driving a car. See the breakdown below:

Is flying better? 

For 9 out of 11 trips, flying is more affordable than taking the train. In one scenario, it’s even cheaper to fly than drive! Shockingly, flying from London to Edinburgh costs just £36 for two plane tickets compared to £39.44 for a tank of petrol split between two people in a car and £97 for two train tickets.

The environmental dilemma 

Across the 11 journeys analysed, two flyers would be responsible for 2.8 tonnes of CO2e, compared to two rail passengers producing 0.37 tonnes of CO2e, making flying 7.7 times as polluting as train travel.

Travelling 200 miles (the equivalent distance from Manchester to London) costs more than triple the amount to travel via train than it does for a tank of petrol split between two people (£64 versus £18.91). The downside? Driving this distance emits almost triple the amount of carbon than two people travelling via train (51 kgCO2e versus 18 kgCO2e).

On average, travelling via train emits 33 kgCO2e of carbon for two passengers while driving produces 100 kgCO2e of carbon emissions. The difference? A whopping 67 kgCO2e – meaning cars produce almost triple the amount of greenhouse gas emissions.

Eleanor Akers, Director and Founder of Innovative Energy Consultants, a sustainability and strategy consultancy for businesses, comments:

“Every time someone chooses the train over driving, they’re taking a car off the UK’s overcrowded roads and reducing Greenhouse Gas emissions and air pollution. Every time they choose the train over flying, they’re signalling to the market that sustainability matters. Unfortunately, the UK’s regulatory environment is not sending the same signals with trains paying taxes on energy that airlines are exempt from. As a nation, we have a legally binding net zero by 2050 target. I don’t know how we can reach this when businesses and ordinary people are being asked to pay such a high price for sustainability during a cost-of-living crisis.

“I urge everyone to sign this petition to help make train travel genuinely affordable and to write to their MP to let them know how important this issue is to both economic growth and achieving our national sustainability targets. I also urge businesses to set an internal carbon price and use this to create clear business travel policies to empower staff to make the sustainable choice wherever possible.”

Innovative Energy Consultants is providing free sustainability consultation sessions for businesses as part of its efforts to support a more sustainable future. Businesses seeking actionable advice on how to become more sustainable can book a free 15-minute consultation call.


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