Across the continent, low-cost rail companies are launching routes to tempt passengers from the skies. Are they winning?

Train travel may be easier on the planet than emissions-emitting cars and planes, but there are frequent complaints that it’s a heavy burden on the wallet.

Not so Lumo. The no-frills, all-electric trains were launched a year ago to give budget airlines an 800-mile run for their money on the London-Edinburgh route, the UK’s busiest domestic air route.

And when he blows out the candles on his first birthday cake, the operator can eat it too, as figures show trains are now the preferred option for people traveling between the English and Scottish capitals.

Figures from the Civil Aviation and Train Ticket Office show that before the pandemic, 65 per cent of passengers chose planes over trains between London and Edinburgh. However, between April and July this year, that preference shifted to 54 percent in favor of the railroad, increasing to 63 percent in July alone.

“Not only did we attract passengers to cleaner transport, we also noticed something else [rail] operators have also increased their market share,” Lumo director Martin Gilbert told Positive News. “Together, we’ve convinced the public that rail’s convenience, cost and environmental impact are worth it.”

Lumo estimates that around 1 million passengers traveling on its services is equivalent to 5,500 full flights, saving at least 120,000 tonnes of CO2.

Green travel

Lumo launched a year ago with great fanfare and has a lot to celebrate on its first anniversary. Image: Lumo

It overlaps A 2021 study by consumer group Which?. Trains have been found to produce six times less emissions than planes on popular routes in the UK, but – and most importantly – are 49% more expensive on average.

Lumo helps solve this. The average ticket price between London and Edinburgh is £37, which is competitive with low-cost airline tickets. If you’re far-sighted enough to book 12 weeks in advance, you can even get one of a limited number of tickets for £19.99.

Railway lover Mark Smithfounder of the train website The man on the chair 61was one of the first passengers to travel on Lumo’s inaugural journey on the East Coast Main Line to Edinburgh last October.

We have convinced the public that the convenience, cost and environmental impact of rail are worth it

The firm only offers standard-class carriages, which Smith deemed “remarkably well-designed”, with plenty of legroom, laptop tables and individual reading lamps. A former railway worker, perhaps a little biased. “I hate flying,” he said. “I don’t do it in Britain or Europe. Airplanes aren’t really a proper form of travel.’

Lumo, part of Aberdeen-based transport giant FirstGroup, is known as an “open access” provider.. Such providers receive government licenses to operate on the condition that they offer something different to competing rail companies (in Lumo’s case, London North Eastern Railway). Smith says that’s a requirement that Lumo has more than met with cheap fares.

“Competition has increased quality, increased frequency, added many seats, kept prices down,” he said. “The whole rail market has gone up and the airlines have been the losers.”

Green travel

Avlo is one of a number of rail upstarts undermining airlines in Europe. Image: Avlo

Budget railway upstarts are nothing new on the European continent. Smith gives the example of an Italian open access operator Italo by reducing prices for long-distance services by 25 percent. Meanwhile, France and Spain have their own public budget services, Hugo and Avlo.

Unlocking similar untapped potential here in the UK means making better use of existing capacity on our rail networks, says George Davies, director of sustainability at the Railway Safety and Standards Board.

“Capacity is really our friend in the context of making rail more attractive and more streamlined, and ultimately more sustainable,” he said. “At this point, I would argue that we’re not making the best use of it for either freight or passenger traffic.”

The entire rail market grew, and the airlines lost out

But the plans are being implemented. Grand Union Trains cooperate with the Spanish national operator Renfe to bet on new lines connecting London with Carmarthen in Wales and Stirling in Scotland.

Meanwhile, Lumo says it hopes to save 1 million seats on the rail network every year, creating more than 100 new jobs over the next decade.

It all sounds exactly like the kind of rail failure we can expect.

Main image: David Gubler

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Green travel: the low-cost rail firms taking on Europe’s airlines