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Monday, 8 January, 2001, 13:13 GMT
Rail chaos: What are the alternatives?

Britain's rail network is at its lowest ebb in living memory, but that hasn't stopped some fares going up. So how does the cost of train travel match up to other modes of transport?

Compared to countries like France, Spain and the United States, it should be a doddle to get around Great Britain.

After all, we live on a small, densely populated, highly industrialised island.

Unfortunately, transport does not seem to be our strong point: the roads are often congested, our railways rank among the most expensive in the world and the domestic flight network is still underdeveloped.

So, given the options, what is the most cost-effective way to get from London to Edinburgh and back again.

Using the exact length of the A1 - the 413-mile "Great North Road" that runs from St Paul's Cathedral to the centre of the Scottish capital - helps make the comparison more exact.


The price of a standard "saver" return ticket from London King's Cross to Edinburgh Waverley on Great North Eastern Railways is 77. The journey takes six hours.

Starting at St Paul's and travelling by taxi to King's Cross station would add another half-hour to the journey and cost about 5.

The average cost for the whole journey would be just under 10p per person, per mile. The average speed, including the taxi journey, would be about 60mph.

TOTAL TIME: 6hrs 30mins each way
COST PER MILE: about 10p


The cost of going by plane varies considerably. Unless the passenger accepts all sorts of complicated restrictions, the price of a Heathrow to Edinburgh return ticket is not likely to be less than 100. (British Midland quotes fares, inclusive of tax, of between 70 and 140.)

To make the comparison, add another 60 - the return price of a taxi between central London and Heathrow, as quoted by the London Cab Drivers Association.

The average speed achieved by combining cab and plane, is 118mph - almost exactly double that of the train.

TOTAL TIME: 3hrs 30mins each way (inc. check-in allowance)
COST PER MILE: about 19p


Estimating the cost of car travel is tricky, because it depends on whether the act of driving the car is seen as work and, if so, how much value the driver places on his or her time.

The average speed achieved by a car making the London-Edinburgh trip is highly dependent on traffic conditions and is more variable than that of the train or plane.

A car driver could expect to make the journey in about eight hours

The RAC puts the all-inclusive cost of driving a typical three-year-old 1.8 litre family saloon at 53.6p per mile, but this would be about the same for one person as a family of four.

And driving is hard work. So if the driver rates their time spent at the wheel at 3.70 per hour (the national minimum wage), the cost of the journey soars further.

TOTAL TIME: 8hrs each way
TOTAL COST: 442 (plus 59.20 for driving time)
COST PER MILE: about 61p


The return National Express coach fare from London Victoria to Edinburgh is 40 and the journey takes 9hrs 30mins, at an average speed of about 40 mph.

The cost per person per mile is only 5p, making coach travel by far the cheapest option.

TOTAL TIME: 9hrs 30mins each way
COST PER MILE: about 5p


Those with more exotic tastes might consider other types of transport.

London taxi company Dial-A-Cab quotes an estimated 2,000 for a return London to Edinburgh run - plus VAT, and the customary 10% tip.

Even then the company thought the journey would take up to 12 hours - slower, even, than the coach.

TOTAL TIME: 12hrs each way
TOTAL COST: 2,550 (inc VAT and tip)


Barge transport, according to figures quoted by an official at British Waterways, is surprisingly expensive, as well as being extremely slow.

The average "all-in" cost of barge operation is put at 26p per mile - about half that of a car. The main problem though is that barges are subject to a maximum speed limit of 4mph.

Also, barges are slowed hugely by having to negotiate locks. Some stretches of canal have as many as 29 locks in half-mile of waterway.

When calculating the distance of a canal journey, barge owners work in "lock miles" - a combination of the length of the winding canal in ordinary miles, with an extra mile added for every lock encountered.

The distance in lock miles between London and Edinburgh would be about 1,000 miles, meaning the journey would take a minimum of 250 hours - or seven full working weeks.

The average speed would be about one fifth of one mile per hour.

A further problem is that no single stretch of waterway connects the London canal system to Scotland. The furthest anyone can get from the London canal "hub" at Little Venice in the west London is Rippon in Yorkshire.

That's just over half way to Scotland and the journey would take almost four weeks.

TOTAL TIME: 250hrs each way
TOTAL COST: 520 (based on "lock miles")

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