High-speed rail is part of a green future for Britain

20 September, 2010

Britain’s most successful campaigner John Stewart has published a book Victory against all odds following the Government decision to abandon Heathrow’s Runway Three – and this having previously led the successful anti-road building campaigns in London and across the country (through ALARM UK).

But those campaigning locally against HS2 should not look to John for support. Local Transport Today editor Andrew Foster put it to him that having defeated roads and airports, he could think about high-speed rail next. “No, I wouldn’t get involved in a campaign against high-speed rail”, he said. Indeed, he added that he might want instead to get involved in a campaign for high-speed rail. We’d certainly welcome that.

Another report worth looking at is Towards a Carbon Vision for UK Transport, published in July 2010. It was put together by environmentalist John Whitelegg and others for the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI). The report outlines measures which if adopted would create a zero-carbon outcome for the nations’ road and rail networks by 2050. Car travel would be reduced and vehicles would switch to electric and hydrogen fuel cell power (although the huge increase in electrical power production this would entail is beyond the scope of the report). The national rail network, including future high-speed rail lines, would be totally electrified (it is, roughly speaking, half-way there already).

The report’s authors cannot see how the same dramatic outcome can be achieved for aviation and shipping. While a 56% reduction from aviation is projected—a figure  broadly in line with the findings of ATOC’s work for Greengauge 21—the SEI Report says that this requires the application of many complementary policy initiatives.

The SEI report suggests that a network of high-speed rail services would reduce aviation carbon emissions by 4.9Mt in 2050, a reduction of 8.2% in the projected total from the aviation sector.

So if anyone needed the logical connection, here it is. Environmental campaigners don’t spend a lifetime fighting roads and airport expansion and then turn round and oppose the lower carbon option of high-speed rail.