The European Union has announced plans which could see rail journeys replace flights between European cities. Siim Kallas, the EU’s transport commissioner, has outlined a number of initiatives aimed at reducing the amount of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere by 60 per cent by the middle of this century.

He explained that by developing high-speed train networks the problem of congestion at busy airports like Heathrow would be greatly reduced. Cutting back on the number of domestic operations would also mean there would be less pressure for airport expansion and the construction of controversial new runways.

Kallas said there was a desperate need for additional capacity at Heathrow and that this could be achieved by removing flights across Europe and developing the intercity high-speed train network. He used the Madrid Barcelona link as an example pointing out that it now held 50 per cent of the travel market between the two cities, reduced the need for air travel and allowed airlines to concentrate on their much more lucrative long-haul services.

Kallas has also said that he would like to see diesel and petrol driven cars removed from all city centres within the next 40 years. He said it was necessary for countries to stop relying on vehicles powered by diesel and petrol for making shorter journeys.

The commissioner defended his ambitious targets by asking others to come up with a better plan for getting rid of conventional vehicles. He also announced that London’s congestion charge would soon be adopted by other European cities.