A WAR of words has broken out between transport bosses as rail companies insist the region is better served by train than by plane.
The claims have come after Newcastle Airport complained that East Coast’s advertising campaign is targeting the air services the region needs to keep its economy going.
But East Coast rail bosses have told The Journal that their best tickets are more than capable of serving the region – and at a cheaper price.
Last night East Coast head of marketing Rob Payne said: “We constantly compare the cheapest available journeys on all our major routes, up to 12 weeks ahead.
“At the end of March, on nine out of 10 London departures from Newcastle airport, a cheaper East Coast rail journey was available from Newcastle within an hour of the flight time.”
He added: “We are adding extra capacity to the travel market between the North East and London from May 22, including an extra three weekday and 11 weekend services between Newcastle and London, at a time when some airlines are pulling out due to volume of passengers who are already switching from the plane to the train.”
Mr Payne was speaking after rail firms claimed passenger numbers at major airports were continuing to fall since a high in 2006.
The Association of Train Operating Companies said that if the trend of recent years continues, rail’s market share on the 10 most popular domestic air routes combined could rise to above 50% within the next 12 months.
The association also claims that air passenger numbers for Newcastle to London are down 11.6% year on year, while over five years the figures show a drop of around 36%.
Newcastle Airport’s corporate affairs director Graeme Mason said: “These figures are hardly surprising, given the series of rises in Air Passenger Duty customers have endured, which have pushed people from air to rail during this period.
“The duty on a return flight to London is £24 per person, which is a significant proportion of the ticket price. If you removed this tax, which of course doesn’t apply to rail fares, then air fares would be lower. This is not a level playing field.”
Mr Mason is set to warn the Government in its consultation on high speed rail that improvements to train routes will not fully serve the North East’s transport needs.