The government wants to make its transport policy a big contributor to lowering the UK’s output of carbon dioxide. Many people just want a transport system that works for them.
The idea that switching people to trains from cars will do the job needs careful examination. Clearly, shifting more people onto commuter trains at peak hours when the roads are congested should be good on both counts. Congestion is one of the main causes of extra carbon dioxide, and one of the main causes of frustration and delays. Fully loaded trains produce less carbon dioxide per traveller and per mile and can do a good job in reducing delays and stress.
Similarly, switching more freight from trucks to trains over longer distances can cut the carbon dioxide and should, if the railways were properly organised, cut costs and help distribution. The fact that this is often not the case requires improvement in rail freight facilities and mroe flexibility in freight marshalling to cater for businesses that do not have a train load of goods themselves on a daily basis.
There are not the same carbon gains or convenience gains to be had outside peak hours and off main routes. The ever growing improvements in car engine efficiency and fuel consumption mean that looking out over the next twenty years or so we should assume that for many journeys the car will produce less carbon dioxide per passenger mile travelled than the total carbon dioxide for the same journey by mixed mode, usually involving cars into and out from city centre stations along with a mainline train journey on a lightly loaded train.
The Mayor of London is launching his new travel plans. The upgrade of tube train facilities and the increase in capacity will be welcome. At peaks hours the tube is under great strain from high passenger numbers, and more could be done to improve comfort on trains. He also needs to drive forward his programme to bust congestion on the roads. There are all too many examples of poorly managed and poorly chosen road works. Traffic light phasing is still far from optimal in many central London locations.
Probably the most successful transport investment in recent years has been the adaption of the M42 Birmingham ring way for hard shoulder running. This has improved the capacity of the road, cut congestion and delay, reduced carbon dioxide emissions as a result, and has cut accidents substantially. We need more such investments to get the Uk moving better. In many places we have the tarmac but it is not well designed to cut accidents and maximise throughput of vehicles. We spend large sums on trying to get trains to travel faster – and produce more carbon dioxide in the process at the power station – whilst creating endless delays for motor vehicles, also producing more carbon dioxide as they perform well below their optimum levels of efficiency.
Cutting carbon dioxide output and improving the lot of the traveller need not be in conflict. Smoother and faster running on the roads will help, as much as diverting goods and people onto trains on major routes and at busy times.