Monday, May 27, 2024

Planes, trains and automobiles: comparing cost, speed and emissions of Sydney-Melbourne travel

Australians are faced with a tough decision this Christmas, as record-high domestic flight costs and rising petrol prices make road…

By Chan , in Travel , at February 29, 2024

Australians are faced with a tough decision this Christmas, as record-high domestic flight costs and rising petrol prices make road trips and flights less attractive. After months of domestic flight fares that were higher than average, travelers now face prices that have not been seen since March 2004.

Guardian Australia reported last week that Australians are increasingly choosing cheaper overnight trains for interstate travel. The number of passengers between Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane has more than doubled in recent months, and the services have been fully booked. Coach travel has also increased.

Trains are also a more environmentally friendly way to travel. France is moving towards banning domestic short-haul flights, which can be covered with a train trip of less than two and a half hours.

The sheer size of Australia, along with decades of inaction and neglect of the existing rail network, makes a similar law impractical. However, the increasing financial and environmental costs of driving or flying between cities are changing the equation.

What is the best holiday option for your family?

Guardian Australia, with the help of Beyond Zero Emissions researcher Rowan Moorey and drawing from historical research by the Grattan Institute and Bureau of Infrastructure and Transport Research Economics, examines the financial, time, and convenience costs of traveling Australia’s most traveled route from Sydney-Melbourne.


Distance: Around 880km from Sydney to Melbourne CBD to CBD via Albury

Time: About 9 hours with no breaks, depending on traffic.

Emissions are about 105kg C02 per person, according to the average vehicle emissions and load factor for a vehicle with 2.26 passengers. The figure can vary depending on vehicle type, passengers, luggage, and weight. Diesel vehicles will have a smaller footprint.

The average Australian electric car will use about 180kWh for a trip. The carbon footprint depends on the way the electricity is produced to charge the vehicle. This varies from state to state.

Cost$165 – $180, plus tolls, depending on the origin and destination. (Based on BITRE’s average fuel consumption of 11.1 liters per 100km and an average fuel cost of $1.80 unleaded E10). This trip could cost as little as an electric vehicle, depending on the energy price, vehicle type, and load factor.

Verdict: Driving from Sydney to Melbourne is a cost-effective option, particularly if you have several people with you. It also produces fewer carbon emissions than flying. It is convenient to travel when you are staying at your destination. However, driving is exhausting and requires frequent rest stops for one person. A stopover overnight can result in significant accommodation costs.


Distance is about 720km from Sydney’s airport to Melbourne Tullamarine Airport.

Time is approximately 90 Minutes, including the average taxiing time.

Emissions are approximately 185kg per person. This is based on the efficiency of an average short-haul plane that flies this route. The estimated 152 passengers were based on load factors for the route. Radiative forcing is included in emissions.

Cost$200 to $250 one-way per person for the economy this December with a budget airline and more than $500 on full-service airlines.

Verdict: The fastest but most polluting choice. It is also important to take into account the travel time to and from Sydney and Melbourne airports. Arriving early and going through security can be more time-consuming than the flight itself. It would be best if you also considered the cost of transfers to and from airports – around $40 per person on both ends for rail/bus transfers – as well as adding luggage to your tickets.


Distance953km from Sydney Central Station to Melbourne Southern Cross.

skip past newsletter promotion

After newsletter promotion

Time: about 10 hours and fifty minutes.

Emissions are approximately 76kg per person. This is based on an estimate of passengers based on a recent increase in patronage. The carbon footprint of future high-speed rail services using fully electrified tracks could be as low as 50kg per person. This is at a time when the majority of Australia’s electricity comes from renewable sources.

Cost: $78 Economy, less expensive for children and concessions. A sleeper bed for an adult full fare costs $234.

Verdict: While it takes a little longer to travel by train, the trip is better for the environment. The train can be a cheaper option to fly, and since it’s government-run and has fixed prices, it may also be an excellent choice for last-minute bookings.

The tickets are flexible, and luggage is included. Travelers will also save money on airport transfers. The current rolling stock dates back to the 1980s. There are no power outlets, wifi, or phone reception on board.


Distance is approximately 950km from Sydney’s central area to Melbourne’s main area via Canberra.

Time: About twelve hours, depending on traffic

Emissions: About 17kg of CO2 per person based on average ridership and emission efficiency of the vehicle operating the route.

$140-$240 is the cost of. However, there are cheaper early-bird deals available.

Verdict: This is the most environmentally friendly mode of transportation, but it’s also the longest and not the cheapest. The lack of food and cramped seats are also downsides. Greyhound Australia buses have reclining leather seating, free wifi, USB charging in the seats, air conditioning, and an onboard restroom. They also make frequent stops for food and toilet breaks.

The winner of the contest is…

Personal preference is the key factor in determining which route you choose to travel between Sydney and Melbourne (and other routes along Australia’s East Coast).

  • The fastest route is flying, but you’ll pay a price during the holiday season. This Option leaves the largest carbon footprint.
  • Cheapest Option: the train is your best Option if you are traveling alone. If you’re traveling in a large group, driving yourself may be your best choice.
  • The coach is the most environmentally friendly Option.

If you don’t have a lot of time to spare and want a stress-free, environmentally-friendly alternative to flying, then the train may be a good choice.

The illustrations for this story have been updated to reflect the correct type of train that travels between Sydney and Melbourne. Previous illustrations showed a suburban Melbourne rail.