UK on the Brink of Domestic and International Rail Revolution

The UK is undergoing significant rail developments on both domestic and international levels, which will see the train compete more effectively with road and air travel, according to Euromonitor International research presented in the WTM London (World Travel Market London) this year.

The decision on airport expansion around London keeps dragging on, and amid claims that UK airspace is overcrowded, legislators are looking for alternative ways of improving transport links. Furthermore, the impact of aviation on climate change, as well as localised pollution from increased congestion on cities’ roads, is putting rail in a more positive light.

Value sales of rail tickets to UK residents are forecast to be USD4.7 billion in 2017, according to Euromonitor International figures. Channel Tunnel rail operator Eurostar is expanding its network, with a direct link with Amsterdam starting in December 2017. With a travel time of under four hours, it is believed that the rail provider can compete with airlines on one of the busiest routes in Europe. Within the Greater London area, Crossrail and Thameslink are working on improving connections. Outside of the city, High Speed Two (HS2) will run from London Euston to Birmingham, Crewe and Leeds to improve connections to northern powerhouses.

However, if one man’s vision comes to fruition, it could render HS2 unnecessary. Elon Musk, founder of PayPal, Space X and Tesla, is working on a new venture called Hyperloop One, a sealed tube through which pods can travel without air friction, at up to 1,200 km per hour.

The first Hyperloop connection is planned to be built between Dubai and Abu Dhabi, yet Musk has proposed several other viable routes in Europe. One eye-catching route is between London and Edinburgh, via Birmingham and Manchester, which would take 50 minutes. While very much in the early stages, if it ever came into existence, the Hyperloop could make HS2 redundant. Once HS2 is completely opened in 2033, travel from Edinburgh to London will take three hours and 38 minutes. Hyperloop One has also proposed routes between Glasgow and Cardiff (89 minutes) and Glasgow to Liverpool (47 minutes).

While Hyperloop One might take a while to come to fruition, travel companies are starting to look at partnerships with companies specialising in the rail sector. For example, in May 2017, Expedia entered into an agreement that resulted in it holding a majority stake in ticketing company SilverRail, which processes more than 25 million bookings a year. Expedia’s investment in SilverRail shows that the internet firm believes in the growing importance of rail, and integrating rail on its ‘flight-heavy’ platform. It is an important move for rail, as better online accessibility will reduce the barrier to usage by customers.

Euromonitor International presented the Top 100 City Destinations Ranking Report in the WTM London event November 2017.