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ENVIRONMENT & SUSTAINABILITY


Numerous rail industry leaders have made calls in RTM in recent months for rail to innovate environmentally, to keep up with massive R&D spending in the aviation and automotive industries. But Stephen Joseph, chief executive of the Campaign for Better Transport, says they may be worrying too much.


B


oth passenger and freight rail servic- es have always been able to play the


‘green card’ with near impunity when com- paring their eco-credentials to road and air travel.


But some in the industry are worried that this is breeding complacency, pointing out that too many rail services are still hauled by dirty diesel locos and that not enough is being done to truly innovate to com- pete with the millions spent in the global car industry especially, which is greening up its products and its image. Versions of this argument have been made by people like Ricardo’s Simon Scott, the Rail Freight Group’s Lord Tony Berkeley, and Invensys’ Christian Fry in recent months.


But Stephen Joseph, chief executive of the Campaign for Better Transport, told RTM: “I’ve said this before to the rail industry, but I think actually there’s a danger in be- lieving the hype coming out of the road and aviation industries on how much they’re actually doing.


“Although they make huge claims to be do- ing brilliant things environmentally, some of it turns out to in fact just be hype when you look at it carefully.


“In that sense, the progress being made is less, and therefore rail’s comparative ad- vantage is greater than you would some- times think.”


Electric nation


He went on: “Certainly in the area of emis- sions, you are getting lower-carbon vehi- cles, that’s clearly important – but not in terms of freight. There’s no electric lor- ries on the horizon. There’s very limited progress in that direction, and in fact the haulage industry is spending its time argu- ing for larger lorries, rather than greener lorries. They say larger is greener, but that’s erroneous. So, I certainly don’t see rail freight’s environmental advantages be- ing challenged, though I do think there’s an issue about actually quantifying those advantages on an individual fl ow basis, as has been done for example by Eurostar and Virgin on passenger fl ows versus air. There are some really detailed number there, and I think it would be good to do more of those.”


The European Commission’s new trans- port White Paper foresees an end to con- ventionally-fuelled cars in cities by 2050, replaced entirely by public transport and greener private transport (see page 49).


Joseph told us: “There are some city pub- lic transport propositions that are zero- emissions, depending on whether you de- carbonise the electricity or not. That’s an important point: it’s all very well talking about electric vehicles, but the electricity has to come from somewhere. Charging from a grid fuelled largely by coal-fi red


power stations isn’t green. That affects rail electrifi cation as well, of course.


“But a lot of the decisions that really make a difference on rail and the environment are ones for governments. In particular, the decision to go for more rail electrifi - cation, and progressive electrifi cation of a large chunk of the network: that will keep rail ahead.”


Future networks


“There’s a debate about green high-speed rail is,” he continued, “but Government has said it wants to invest in that.


“If you look at what it’s also said about road and air, there aren’t going to be new run- ways in the South East, unless Boris gets his ‘Boris Island’ somewhere! There is go- ing to be only limited new motorway build- ing. So, rail will keep its lead; because the alternatives are going to be worse.”


But do critics in the industry have a point when they express concerns over the rela- tive lack of innovation?


He said: “There are two big issues. One is technical innovation. As an outsider, it’s clear there is an issue with having a frag- mented railway, and the McNulty report picks this up, about being able to innovate in a fragmented industry, particularly in- novations that involve both track and train.


rail technology magazine Jun/Jul 11 | 43


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