The contribution of global aviation to climate change is projected to triple by 2050. This is clearly incompatible with the Paris Agreement. One way to curb this development, is to make people take the train instead of the plane. Travel by aviation within Europe,1 emits on average 5 to 6 times more CO2 per passenger-kilometre than by train. To reduce the growth in intra-European aviation, improvements in the speed and quality of rail services are considered and implemented. The present study estimates the potential reduction in CO2 from intra-European aviation, by a modal shift to rail.
The potential CO2 reduction is estimated for three assumed railway improvements:
- All railway services competing with aviation, have the modal split of the contemporary best high-speed rail connections. This implies HSR between all larger cities in Europe.
All railway services competing with aviation become 10% faster.
The number of intra-European night trains is increased by 50%.
The present study did not investigate measures and costs required for these improvements in rail services.
The overall conclusion from this study is that 4 to 7 Mt CO2 from intra-European aviation may be avoided by a modal shift from aviation to railways. This corresponds with 6% to 11% of the CO2 emissions from intra-European aviation and with 2% to 4% of CO2 from all fuel bunkers in Europe, which includes departing intercontinental flights.
To achieve this reduction in CO2, faster intra- European rail services are required, in combination with policies which discourage flying. Train travel in Europe on distances between 200 and 1000 km needs to increase by around 50% in 2040. This includes the new passengers coming over from aviation plus the trend-wise growth of 1% per year.