The trend to offer passengers high-speed onward rail travel to the regions after they have completed long-haul flights is hardly expected to be welcomed by the regional airline industry. But there is no reason the two cannot coexist to provide a wider choice and better all-round service for passengers.

Even in Europe, which has the world's densest transport infrastructure, the high-speed train network, while growing rapidly, lags significantly behind that of the regional airlines.

The latter have adapted to the demand for more comfort by introducing new regional jets and have formed alliances with the major airlines that guarantee these are fed with passengers from the regions to their hubs. There has also been an impressive increase in the number of destinations served.

But a regional airline flying into a major hub - especially one that is slot-controlled - remains subject to that hub's capacity to accommodate smaller aircraft.

Enter the high-speed train, linking the airport with regional city centres. The key to the success of high-speed train/plane links is to provide passengers with a seamless baggage and ticketing service. The sheer complexity of bringing the two systems together, not to mention the cultural differences, will ensure that it is some time before such seamless service can be provided.

Until then, passengers will have to be satisfied with simple extensions to their air tickets which provide access to the follow-on train journey from a station co-located with the airport - and there are still precious few of these.

Life for air travellers is, however, becoming less and less attractive in a Europe that is suffering from severe air traffic control problems, which will take years to resolve, along with growing airport capacity restrictions.

In a system where traffic is growing at 7% a year, but which has not yet developed the infrastructure to handle that growth (the continuing problems at Swanwick air traffic control centre only serve to demonstrate the difficulties), it is not surprising that major airlines such as Air France, Lufthansa, American and United are taking advantage of the existing high-speed train network to give their passengers an option to onward travel by air.

Providing passengers with an efficient multimode transport network can only benefit the air transport industry by easing pressure on an increasingly overworked system.

See feature : Airways Railroaded

Source: Flight International