Some replies

Some have asked for numbers to back up the argument that trains are often not very green. An overall hypothetical calculation has been made which says that if all freight went by truck instead of train and if all train passengers went by coach carbon emissions would be 13% lower, given current generating methods for electricity. That is the measure of the task the railways face to green themselves to road standards.

The piece in the Times yesterday suggesting that David Cameron was thinking of demanding price reductions for medical treatments performed by hospitals employed by the NHS was presented as a radical departure. It is in fact this government’s policy, as they demanded a 3% cost reduction this year and expect a 3.5% one next year.

Yesterday I was asked to comment on health budgets for the Yorkshire Post and the banks for the Evening Standard. There is some growing awareness out there in the media world of the spending crisis we face.


  1. alan jutson
    August 4, 2009

    Surley it is not just a question of pollution, it is a question of using many forms of transport to create a whole efficient transport system.

    It would be silly for everything to go by rail, it would be silly for everything by road, or plane, or canal, or bicycle.

    Different routes and distances require different solutions and modes of transport.

    The problem occures when by tax you start to penalise one form over another, then sunbsidise another form over another.

    Yes of course different modes of transport have differing pollution levels, but by and large manufacturers of all modes of transport (planes, cars, boats, trains etc) are making improvements with new inovations and developments, but it takes time and money for research to bring forward such new products or improve old.

    1. Paul
      August 4, 2009

      Agree Alan,

      But if you tarmaced the railways and used them for coach and freight only, the benefits would be enourmous. Easing congestion on our existing road network, making shared journies on public transport far easier as independent coach companies can offer a whole range of different services some almost door to door etc

      Taking freight away from small towns and villages etc

      Trains are 19th century which is why they have to be subsidised with tax payers money in order to even partially work

      1. rob
        August 4, 2009

        Only at £300bn (£25 million a mile plus right off costs) costing 150,000 plus jobs, 2-4 times slower and I’m not entirely sure who would pay for it! It would be far better to put that sort of thing down the side of motorways!

        Oh and cars are also 19th century!

        As for partially work, Rail has far better time keeping the bus or airlines, and certainly don’t cost the country £23 billion in lost time due to congestion, even though the network is 22 times smaller.

        As rail has by far the highest capacity (up to 100,000 pph, such as Hong Kong, even the Victoria line manages 45,0000!) and one of the lowest, if not the lowest carbon footprint and the best safety records and the highest legal speeds over land – only an idiot would pursue such a policy!

        While there is a lot of faults with the rail network, including unit costs that are far to high right now, much of this is down to past underinvestment and probably lack of innovation. We could do far better with automated computer control and new methods of track laying.

        That said, The rail network will probably always need subsidy while roads are free at the point of use, and very prescriptive H&S legislation is applied.

        The road network should be sold off and tolled, tax removed and external costs applied which should be put back into schemes such as funding carbon reduction, public transport and home insulation.

    2. Simon
      August 4, 2009

      Agree with you here – in isolation the “put everything on the road” argument makes sense but you either have to build many many more roads, or accept hugely inefficient road transport, which would probably destroy any fuel savings from changing the mode of transport. Given our starting point, it’s probably most efficient for freight to mainly stick to rail and people mainly to road.

      Why does no-one ever suggest re-using our canal network for freight… surely that’s the most efficient mode of transport for non-urgent freight.

      Reply: Yes I favour more freight on rail, but it will require a more inspired approach to selling the service to customers, cutting its costs, and putting in branch lines and sidings.

  2. Lola
    August 4, 2009

    Don’t demand price reductions – that’s just price controls and as we know they never ever work. Ask competing providers to bid for the work. That’ll drive efficiency through competition.

    1. DBC Reed
      August 4, 2009

      Never been sure of how competition is supposed to work: especially between two firms competing to provide transport services over the same route(s) .If they’re both set up with the capacity to take all the traffic (which is what true competition implies) there’s 50% too much capacity (buses,coaches) at the outset.
      More likely they’ll come to an understanding to take 50% of the traffic each, reducing their overheads to a sensible level.But they’re not competing.
      They’re also wasting a lot of money on bureaucracy:two sets of ticket offices ;marketing people; advertising…

      Reply: try looking at what competition has achieved on the planes – the low price carriers have shown the way.

      1. DBC Reed
        August 5, 2009

        There was massive untapped demand for low-cost aviation which private enterprise rushed to supply,the same way railway lines got built all over the place during the nineteenth century railway mania.Come market saturation and competition did no good at all and the railways threw in the towel in the 1940’s ,accepting nationalisation. There has been a 30% increase in demand for rail journeys since rail privatisation but competition
        has not done anything to reduce fares,with “offers” being handled by a bigger, because decentralised , bureaucracy.
        Cheap air fares have been a success for the private sector,but there is the geographical constraint of rationed landing slots so there are limits on this kind of growth.(However the statist initiative of encouraging airports in every town as promulgated in France does seem a good way of bridging this State/bad; Private sector/ solves everything divide that still exists among this country’s professional politicians,not anybody else.)

  3. Chris Packham
    August 4, 2009

    It’s not good enough to talk about ‘overall hypothetical calculations’, particularly without quoting the source, in this very important and serious debate. It’s true that coaches are more fuel efficient than trains, but unless high occupancy vehicle lanes and bus lanes are put on motorways coaches won’t offer the speed and reliability of railways. Do any MPs make their journeys between constituency and London by coach? If there was no rail freight there would be even worse road congestion in many places and increased localised air pollution and traffic accidents plus additional costs to local authorities and the Highways Agency for road maintenance. Also, (admittedly not in the current recession) in a reasonably strong economy hauliers and bus operators struggle with driver recruitment, so where would they find the tens of thousands of extra drivers to move the passenger and freight volumes handled by the railways? Immigration perhaps.
    Road v rail pointscoring isn’t helpful or very illuminating. If we were creating a transport system from scratch we’d have fewer railways, a lot more bus rapid transit, and more regional urban metros. However, as things are rail has a key role in energy-efficient transport and many of the system’s additional costs are balanced by savings on the congestion and pollution costs that road travel imposes on society.

  4. Matthew Reynolds
    August 4, 2009

    Do other nations have railway systems that emit less carbon ? If so could we please learn from them ? Do other countries have more efficient ways of handling rising healthcare costs ? Could we then please learn from how they do things in such places ?

    My attitude is that Theresa Villiers & Andrew Lansley could learn a lot from Michael Gove by actually looking for successful policies abroad & then adapting them for use in England. We need a supply-side revolution in schooling – but having a similar revolution in the Soviet style NHS & the bizarre set up known as our transport system would be no bad thing. I congratulate Oliver Letwin for his globe-trotting to find decent policies – I just wish our transport & health teams could do likewise !

    Failing that Mr Lansley could just read Health Choices and Miss Villiers could read John Redwoods splendid written works on transport policy. Being nice to the BMA & kicking up a fuss about new airport terminals is not really enough is it ? A bit more policy homework could help get more votes so that we can offer better services in the context of a smaller state sector that is caused by the need for public spending cuts. At a time of fiscal restraint we need value for money – simple as that.

    August 4, 2009

    Speaking of government waste as we all so often do here the piece from today’s Conservative Home suggeats that Jill Kirby, Director of the Centre for Policy Studies, is from the John Redwood class of detailed homework and succinct comment!

    Readers may care to read her article at

    As a taster this is Ms Kirby’s final paragraph…

    “As every government knows, welfare reform is difficult, even with the best intentions. But the present system has become so encrusted with self-perpetuating bureaucracy that it is now impossible to ascertain whether billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money is being properly spent or simply poured away. As the recession pushes even higher the bills of social failure, it’s time for the politicians to get a grip.”

    1. Mike Stallard
      August 5, 2009

      Thank you for pointing out this excellent, pithy and sensible article. If only…..

    2. alan jutson
      August 6, 2009

      Thank you for the link.

      Confirms my own thoughts, and worse fears of the State Benefits System.

      Pleased that a politician has also realised what absolute chaos the system is in, and highlights the benefit trap.

      Evidence if any is needed, that we need to scrap the lot and start again.

  6. rob
    August 4, 2009

    Rail has a limited share of the market because

    1) most journeys are under 5 miles
    2) the road network is 22 times bigger

    Nevertheless I very much doubt if all traffic went by (pre-booked) coach you would get any sort of carbon reduction, because off-peak loads have always been poor. This is why ‘walk on’ bus travel has higher emissions than coaches and rail, and both rail and bus needs subsidy. But overall coaches are no better than intercity rail even with our dirty power supply which is set to be de-carbonised. Coaches are also not especially good at attracting passengers from car or especially air, and are 2-4 times slower than rail which has big ramifications for the geography of the UK especially in the SE.

    1. Paul
      August 4, 2009

      None of that is accurate!

      1. rob
        August 4, 2009

        Nor is the quote at the top, for a start it depends on loads, fuel sources and ability to get bums on seats! I could hypothetically prove I could be a billionaire if just 1/6th of the world’s population gave me £1, these things have a habit of being somewhat more complex!

  7. Tim Almond
    August 4, 2009

    The information I had from a study was that once you have 4 people in a car, it became more environmentally friendly than the train.

    I’m not sure if that’s a diesel or a petrol car, though.

    The key thing is price, though. The cost of rail is frequently outrageous. And included in the price of rail (and car) is the tax for the pollution. In other words, we have already priced it in.

    I used to travel to near Wokingham by train to see a client. It cost £50 by train, or around £20 for the petrol for my car.

    1. John Moss
      August 4, 2009

      I am going from NE London to Manchester for the Tory party conference in October. Four of us will go in my 3l BMW saloon – a veritable gas-guzzler – getting at best 28 mpg on the trip, which is 400miles or 640KM there and back.

      At the official 178g/KM of carbon emmissions, out total emmissions per person will be 28.5kg.

      Virgin Trains claim to carry passengers 1,532 million kilometers per annum and emit 167 million kg of carbon, according to their corporate literature. That translates to 109g per passenger, per kilometre.

      With four of us, that would mean 436g/km or almost three times the footprint of the BMW.

      The argument is that the train is going anyway and the trip in the BMW is extra. That’s fine, but the cost will be £80 in fuel in the BMW. It will be at least £42 per person on the train. (You can get a single now for £8 on sunday morning and a return on Thursday evening for £34).

      I think they call that a no-brainer!

  8. Mike Stallard
    August 4, 2009

    I am genuinely glad that you are (at last) being taken seriously. I am also genuinely glad that Mr Cameron is now talking about pruning the ghastly and, yes, dangerous waste in the NHS. (Did you see the headline in the mail today about the doctor who is earning towards £400,000 a year?)
    When I was a young teacher we were asked for an immediate report of all the children in our classes. Well, of course, this meant adding up all sorts of marks and then averaging them out. In those days (ah me!) calculators were not invented and I couldn’t work a slide rule.
    If I liked a pupil, I gave him 67%, and if it was a girl who was pretty, she got 71%. The lowest marks were 17%, as I remember, and 23%. Have you noticed the pattern? Nothing too high or low and LOTS of prime/odd numbers. Nobody dared question my figures.
    Lola knows this, I am sure.
    Trains, let me assure you, including the factored in quotient, are therefore 67% more likely to reduce carbon emissions in the Southern hemisphere during July, than are other comparable forms of transportation…….

  9. no one
    August 4, 2009

    actually the reason goods traffic is not on rail is the vulnerability to strike action mainly, there isnt a technical solution to this

  10. Adam Collyer
    August 4, 2009

    Carbon emissions for road transport might be lower, but so is passenger comfort, and usually speed as well! There are many examples in our lives where we cause extra emissions to gain a greater comfort level.

    Trains do have one great advantage: they can easily be electrified. Regardless of the endless debates about global warming, petrol and diesel will become much more expensive over the next few years/ decades, as demand rises faster than supply, and then supply starts to fall (but demand keeps rising). What’s more, we rely for our oil on the most politically unstable parts of the world.

    If we take the opportunity now to electrify our railways, and build some more as well, and also build some power stations that aren’t gas-fired, in the long run our transport will be a lot more affordable.

    With petrol/ diesel at say £2 a litre (and that will come within the next five years I suspect) trains begin to look pretty attractive.

  11. no one
    August 5, 2009

    re “Carbon emissions for road transport might be lower, but so is passenger comfort, and usually speed as well” what nonsense

    if trains were not so overcrowded at rush hour many folk wouldnt take their car to work, rush hour trains are not comfortable!

    speed is only faster on trains if you happen to be travelling frome exactly one station to another, most realistic journeys cars are in practise faster

    but hey i think we need both, just dont think a rose tinted view of train travel should go without comment

  12. DennisA
    August 5, 2009

    In West Wales, I have to drive 30 miles to my nearest station, Aberystwyth to go North, Carmarthen to go South East, nothing in the 60 mile gap between the two. (Beeching legacy), whilst they are currently proposing to spend 1 Billion on cutting 20 minutes off the journey from Cardiff to London with electric trains that they won’t be able to power, (unless it’s windy).

    Madness reigns

  13. Adrian Peirson
    August 6, 2009

    Probably not going to make much difference to the debate but one of the nest holidays I had was with my children cruising the canals.
    I doubt if our canals could make much difference overall but they are certainly underused as a travel route for goods.
    On a similar note, how about using ships to transport long distance goods, say from southern England to Scotland, or the continent, slower of course but, maybe we could bring back Sail, not for everything of course but simply as a further option.
    Great for all those redundant ship builders and designers too.

    Probably too logical and common sense like, besides the Globalists companies like Fed Ex etc would want little guys muscling in.

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