Select Committee on Environmental Audit Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by the TUC


  To reach its challenging targets to cut carbon emissions, the TUC believes that it is essential to plan for an expanded role for rail transport, whether in mainline passenger services, rail freight, light rail, metro or modern trams. Equally, there are significant CO2 and industrial opportunities to be won from the successful development of a UK-based biofuels industry, provided it is given sufficient active support from Government now.


  In their report, Greening the workplace[102], the TUC and affiliated unions on TUSDAC (the Trade Union Sustainable Development Advisory Committee, a joint TUC/DEFRA body), argued that:

    —  The Government should make the environmental case for rail more forcefully, and resists any proposals for rail replacement that fails to take full account of the environmental and social impact.

    —  Measures in the 2005 Railways Act may lead to cuts in regional and branch routes, or substitute bus services, to the detriment of the government's environmental targets.

    —  The Government should urgently review the potential for rail expansion, especially in planned growth areas such as the Thames Gateway.

  Currently the UK rail network employs around 130,000 people and includes approximately 21,000 miles of track, 1,000 signal boxes, 40,000 bridges and tunnels, 2,500 stations and 9,000 level crossings. Every day the network moves 2.5million passengers and 400,000 tonnes of freight on 20,000 trains.

  Using the same 1990 base level the UK Government has pledged to reduce carbon emissions by 20% by 2010 and by 60% by 2050.

  Currently road transport is responsible for over a quarter of all UK carbon emissions. Furthermore, road traffic is projected to increase by up to 40% by 2020 and the CBI has estimated that traffic congestion costs the UK economy up to £20 billion a year. It is clear that an extensive road-building programme would be an inappropriate way of dealing effectively with either road traffic or congestion. The historical experience is that extra roads lead to extra traffic bringing with it an increase in the volume of harmful greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere.

  Rail, however, provides a viable and environmentally sustainable alternative.

  Since 1994-95 there has been a 33% increase in rail passenger journeys and a 38% increase in rail passenger kilometres. In 2004, rail journeys exceeded one billion for the first time since the pre-Beeching era.

  Rail links can help to discourage medium distance car journeys thereby reducing harmful emissions. The presence of a dedicated rail service encourages business to invest in the local economy in a way, which is not the case if a town is served only by buses. Such investment can help to create employment opportunities, retail outlets and other leisure facilities thereby encouraging social development and economic regeneration. The creation of a vibrant local economy encourages people to work and shop locally thereby reducing the need to commute to work or travel to shops and other leisure facilities outside of the local area.

  However, the rail network is straining under this huge rise in demand. Unless Government seriously considers enhancing capacity then the likelihood remains that the private train operators will resort to pricing passengers off the network thorough increased fares. This will inevitably lead to an increased use of the private car; encourage social exclusion and lead to a further increase in the emission of harmful greenhouse gases.

  Moreover there currently appears little evidence of joined up thinking between Government departments on sustainable communities. The case in point being the Government's sustainable communities including a massive expansion in housing for the Thames Gateway, London-Stansted-Cambridge corridor, Ashford, and Milton Keynes-South Midlands. We are not aware of any new public transport links that have been factored into these plans.


  The Railways Act passed into legislation in April 2005. Regrettably, there are a number of provisions in the Act that raise serious concerns that the railways are to be cut back on regional and branch routes. These fears were compounded by reports of a senior DfT official telling rail industry insiders "what you people have to understand is that the future is about service cuts and fare increases". A cuts agenda on rail will be extremely detrimental to the Government securing and delivering their environmental objectives.

  The Act puts in place arrangements making it easier for bus quality contracts to be introduced if this is part of a wider strategy which includes reductions in rail services. Passenger Transport Authorities (PTAs) will be given powers to make a bus quality contract scheme if they are satisfied that the scheme "is an appropriate way of securing the transport needs of the potential users of a relevant railway service that has been or is to be reduced or discontinued are met".

  Past experience of widespread "bustitution" is not positive. After the Beeching cuts in the late 1960s many rural rail services were replaced by buses. Passenger ridership was not high leading to local authorities removing the replacement bus services. More than 30% of the bus services were eventually cut leaving some local communities without access to any form of local public transport. The result was economic stagnation, social exclusion and the reliance on the private car, resulting in an overall increase in environmental pollution.

  This threat of "bustitution" is compounded by other proposals in the Act, which will make it easier for funding authorities (funding authorities are the Government, PTAs TFL, Welsh Assembly, Scottish Executive and TFL) to close railway lines. The Act appears to weaken safeguards against line closures. Whereas previously the criteria was whether closure would increase passenger hardship, the new guidelines (which will be provided by the Secretary of State) will also cover "economical, financial, environmental and social factors". In addition the assessment will no longer be made by the regional rail passenger committees (which are to be abolished) but by the funding authority actually making the proposals for closure.

  Fears that the Act could lead to a contraction in the railways are heightened by the fact that that there will no longer be a responsibility to promote the railways. The SRA is currently required to "promote the use of the rail network", "secure the development of the rail network" and "to contribute to the development of an integrated system of passengers and transport." As the Act stands this responsibility will be removed and not passed to the Government.

  In addition there will be changes to the powers of the Office of the Rail Regulator (ORR). At present the Government is obliged to pay what the ORR decides is necessary to maintain the network. Now if the Government feels that the Regulator has made an excessive requirement it will be able to revise the decision. So if the Treasury decides to reduce subsidy or not increase it, services or lines may have to close.


    —  Since 1994 there has been a 50% growth in freight on rail.

    —  An average freight train can remove 50 HGV journeys from the UK road network.

    —  An aggregate freight train can remove 120 HGV journeys from the UK road network.

    —  HGVs only pay between 59%-69% of their full social and environmental costs (greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution, noise, congestion, accidents etc).

    —  A 40 tonne, five axle lorry causes over 10,000 times more damage to the road surface than the average car.

    —  Emissions from road freight increased by 59% between 1990-2002.


    —  In 2003-04 over one billion passenger journeys were made on the UK rail network.

    —  In 2003-04 40.9 billion passenger kilometres were travelled on the UK rail network.

    —  Passenger rail produces on average, 73 gCO2 per passenger kilometre.

    —  Cars, produce on average, 114 gCO2 per passenger kilometre.

    —  Short haul aircraft produce on average, 330 gCO2 per passenger.

    —  Between London and Edinburgh a passenger travelling by train would be responsible for 12kgs of carbon emissions, by car 71kgs and by air 96kgs.

  It is the case that safety crumple zones, improved accessibility for disabled passengers and air conditioning reduces the energy efficiency of new rolling stock. However even this is taken into consideration the environmental benefits of rail over both cars and short-haul aircraft is substantial.


    —  There are currently seven light rail systems in the UK; Manchester Metro, Sheffield Supertram, West Midlands, Nottingham Express Transit, Tyne & Wear Metro, Croydon Tramlink and the DLR.

    —  Typically light rail and trams can carry loads of over 3,000 an hour in vehicles containing 350 passengers.

    —  Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Executive estimates that cars produce 30% more CO2 per passenger kilometre than trams and buses produce about 17% more.

    —  The Manchester Metrolink is expected to produce two-thirds less particulates per passenger kilometre than a car.

    —  one in five light rail users have transferred from the car—resulting in 22 million less car journeys a year.

    —  In addition to passengers carried on the 7 light rail systems, 948 million passenger journeys were made on the London Underground and 13.3 million passenger journeys were made on the Glasgow Underground in 2003-04.

  A new biofuels industry

  In its Budget submission 2006[103], the TUC welcomed the Transport Secretary's announcement in November 2005 of plans to introduce the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO). This would require 5% of all UK fuel sold on UK forecourts to come from a renewable source. We would urge the government to move rapidly to implement this measure. With carbon emissions from transport now 10% above 1990 levels due to increases in car usage and road freight, there is a strong case to bring forward the planned implementation date of 2010, along with the duty incentive, currently 20p a litre.

  The RTFO is predicted to save around one million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions in 2010, equivalent to taking one million cars off the road. Its successful implementation will support a new UK industry, employment growth and cuts in emissions. The RTFO is predicted to save around 1 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions in 2010—the equivalent of taking 1 million cars off the road. The TUC would recommend that the Committee commissions further work on the employment potential of this industry—one EEDA-commissioned independent report estimated 12,000 new jobs in biofuels manufacture and associated activities, linked to a Renewable Fuels Obligations to encourage its use. The TUC warmly welcomes the announcement of a possible enhanced capital allowance (ECA) scheme for the cleanest biofuels production plant, subject to state aids approval.

102 Back

103   Budget Submission 2006, A Budget for fairness, TUC January 2006. Back

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