Southampton researchers find that UK rail travel is often cheaper than the car

August 6, 2010

With thousands of British families embarking on their summer holidays, new research by the University of Southampton has found that travelling by train rather than car could provide a more cost-effective travel solution.

The research, carried out by the University's Transportation Research Group, found that around four out of five trips on a sample selection of routes work out cheaper by rail than by car. For individual business travellers, rail travel also has a large and significant cost advantage over car travel when departing after the morning peak time.

Simon Blainey, from the University of Southampton, who led the study says: "Travelling by rail is sometimes perceived as being an expensive choice, but this research shows that in many cases it is far more economical than driving, even before the costs of car purchase are taken into account. At a time when many families are coming under increasing financial pressure, these findings may make people rethink some of their travel choices."

The research tested 208 travel scenarios on 32 typical business and leisure routes with journeys planned on the day and then three, 10 and 45 days in advance. The research considered the full cost of car travel including petrol, tyres, maintenance and parking costs and used two methods to work out the cost - one recommended by the AA and one, known as WebTAG, recommended by the Government.

Using the AA method, the research found that rail travel works out cheaper in 164 cases (78.8 per cent). Using the WebTAG method, it found that 185 journeys (88.9 per cent) work out cheaper by rail.

For the routes identified, the research found that when booking train tickets in advance, car travel is on average up to:

* twice as expensive as rail travel for a family of four with a Family and Friends Railcard;
* 60 per cent more expensive for two leisure travellers;
* three times more expensive for a businessman or woman travelling alone.

Even for train tickets bought on the day, on the routes selected car travel worked out on average:

* 40 per cent more expensive than rail travel for a family of four with a Railcard;
* largely similar for two leisure travellers;
* up to twice as expensive for a businessman or woman travelling alone.

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not rated yet Aug 06, 2010
Its quite the opposite in Canada. A 3.5 hour train trip for a family of four on VIA Rail would be $569.52. That's the 'Economy Discounted' fare. The exact same trip by car would cost me about $50 in gas and take the same amount of time.
Of course, you do miss out on the stale processed cheese sandwiches that way.
not rated yet Aug 06, 2010
"...used two methods to work out the cost - one recommended by the AA and one, known as WebTAG, recommended by the Government."
This is a joke. I drive an oldish car whose costs come nowhere near these "official" values.
not rated yet Aug 07, 2010
Did the study consider the real costs of rail travel including subsidies? Probably not. Rail travel in the USA is both more expensive than auto and takes 5-8 times as long. A 9 hour drive can take two days "not counting waits for interconnects".
5 / 5 (1) Aug 09, 2010
There are so many factors missed in these kinds of studies - many of which are hard to price... Waiting on platforms with hungry, thirsty, bored children. Getting to and from home to the local rail station. (Use car and pay to park at station?!) Buses or taxis from the station to your final destination. Struggling with heavy bags. Standing up. Coping with delayed trains and missed connections. Fitting your trip to their timetable. Rushing back to the station, running late (Stress!). Buying the family railcard, yet never use it enough to benefit. When is an off peak ticket valid to travel? Which platform do I need? Front five carriages only? If I go off peak, is most of the day gone already? Can I get my large spontaneously purchased item on board without blocking an aisle? Actually having enough warning to plan ahead and get cheaper tickets.
not rated yet Sep 24, 2010
It's flawed to consider most of the expenses of the car into the individual trip, like taxes and insurances, because you're going to own the car anyways. You need it because you need to get to work and back, etc.

I mean. If you drive 15000 km a year anyways, and you make one 500 km trip, that's going to be 3.3% of all the wear and tear for your tires etc. Even if you spent £1000 to maintain your car every year, that's just 33 quid for that one trip. It's not enough to buy one ticket for one family member on a train for the same distance.
not rated yet Sep 24, 2010
Cost of tyres? Oh please, if you're driving 10 000 km a year anyhow to get to work and back, and shopping and whatnot, how much is one holiday trip?

Two quid? Half a wooden penny?

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