Select Committee on Environmental Audit Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 278 - 279)



  Q278  Chairman: Good afternoon and welcome. We almost need a commuter service between us and you! We were unable to book our usual room for this session. Thank you very much for coming in. It is a very important part of our evidence gathering for this report which we are in the middle of preparing. Just to kick things off, I wonder whether you would like to say how important you think rail is in the whole process of reducing carbon emissions and what you see as the progress which there can be in moving towards our goal.

  Mr Lyons: I think rail plays a really essential part in this, not that rail in itself has a major impact on the environment, but rail can reduce the impact of others on the environment in a way which I think probably no other powered transport mode can do. The way forward is complex and I think you will probably be examining this. The railways have come through quite a dramatic period, we can describe it as, where the issues, of course, of performance, industry structure and safety have loomed very large indeed, and to be quite honest sustainable development issues have not received the priority which I think many of us would like to have seen. I think we can now confidently say the industry is significantly more stable than it was a few years ago and the sustainable development debate and activity is now beginning to emerge, I think, in a most positive way.

  Mrs Shaw: Yes, I think that is very fair. We have been through a very difficult time, but we are making some very positive moves.

  Q279  Chairman: I am sure that will be quite a widely held view. I certainly, as a longstanding enthusiast for railways, welcome the fact that things seem a bit calmer. Given that is the case and given the potential contribution which even greater use of railways could make in terms of reaching national targets for cutting carbon emissions from transport, do you think the Department for Transport puts enough emphasis now, looking forward, on further cuts of carbon emissions in its strategy for the rail industry?

  Mrs Shaw: Carbon emissions from the railway industry per se are not going to make a huge difference to the overall picture for transport in the UK. We are already very, very low producers of carbon compared with, say, the air industry or the roads. Where the contribution can be is in encouraging more freight and more passengers onto rail rather than making specific gains per se either in the rail freight industry or the passenger industry. So the emphasis from sustainability has increased noticeably in the last twelve months certainly with two particular DFT individuals, Clive Burrows and Mark Lambirth fully on board with the sustainability agenda. Clive, the technical director, is working on the sustainability aims which we all want to see in the technical strategy which, collectively, the industry and the Department is working on to produce later on this year and into next year.

  Mr Lyons: I agree with that, Chairman. We are very pleased that the Secretary of State in the middle of last month announced (which we have been discussing for some time) that there is tobe a proper long-term railway strategy. The whole sustainable development debate on the railways has got to be long-term; it is not something you can sort out in a matter of months. The other key issue now, I think, is that after probably an over-long delay we now see this emerging focus on sustainable development for rail in the Department for Transport for rail. For a long time we have been pointing out that other modes of transport have received very significant incentivisation to move to lower emissions, Power shift, Clean up and all these other things in the road industry, while the railway industry was just left on its own. I think that is being rectified now. Of course, we have yet to see the overarching strategy and its supporting technical strategy, but we are looking forward to that next year and I must say that DfT is making an attempt to discuss this with the industry to get the widest views.

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