400 - Climate change action, leading to Trains | Scoins.net | DJS

400 - Climate change action, leading to Trains


In recognition of there being a climate crisis, one that is in effect permanent within a lifetime (and the lifetime of a family line, not the lifetime of a parliament), it would seem sensible to persuade the population at large to (i) travel less (ii) travel a lot less by car (iii) travel very much less using fossil fuel power (iv) use public transport wherever possible.

We can travel less in several ways; we can make fewer trips and we can travel shorter distances. That implies that there are suitable, adequate local services that we can reach, preferably by foot or cycle (human power) or using local transport such as bus or tram. We can travel less by working from home (WfH, which I will forever misread as WtF), by working a four-day week, by changing shopping patterns, by using deliveries and by using video calls rather than demand for face to face meetings. Some of this is marginally unsatisfactory but I think we need to recognise this as the least cost for playing some small part in saving the planet from ourselves. Indeed, I might go as far as saying that a business should be explaining how much travelling they don't do compared to, say five or ten years ago.

We can travel a lot less by car using the same thinking and we avoid fossil fuels by using electricity or hydrogen, with the recognised assumption that the generation of these alternative fuels is dramatically greener. But let's face it, the demand has to be to use the car steadily less, which in turn makes the car steadily much more expensive when it is being used, on a cost over distance basis.

From 2025 EVs join the rest of the road users in paying excise duty

So we come to the Transport Decarbonisation plan [1]. Oh dearie me. As an example of transparency, this should be lauded. That may be as far as I'd go, though. At [2] I've linked the published assumptions, all of which are themselves fine but which, given the failure of successive governments to do anything substantive, simply optimistic hogwash. The national transport model, the NTM, explores two scenarios, of low and high transport demand. In the low version, the young don't generally drive or travel, the aged don't travel except in groups; in the high traffic model the aged are active travellers, many more people drive (EVs, presumably) and car occupancy actually drops.

Here's some mixed quotes, some of which I read positively, some not:-

And as more of our short journeys (43 per cent of all urban and town journeys are under 2 miles) are cycled or walked, so the carbon, air quality, noise and congestion benefits will be complemented by significant improvements in public health and wellbeing.22

Nearly a third of UK children and over 60 per cent of UK adults are overweight or obese, resulting in direct costs to the NHS of over £6 billion a year and wider costs estimated at over £27 billion.23

Buses are the easiest, quickest, and cheapest way to improve public transport. I think there are some necessary words missing here; perhaps it should read "Development of buses and bus services...".

Rail is already the greenest form of motorised transport, with almost 38 per cent of the network electrified and more to come.

And for those areas of transport where the technology pathway to zero emissions is not yet certain, such as aviation and maritime, the same message applies: the move from 20th century, hydrocarbon-based combustion technologies to clean zero carbon ones will deliver a whole host of additional benefits and new opportunities. Starting a sentence with "And" is considered bad writing; doing this with paragraphs, and on three successive pages is, simply, throwing away the manual.

A fleet of fully zero emission road vehicles will remove the source of 91% of today’s domestic transport GHG emissions.28 P38

The plan, then, is to persuade us as a society to make 'a modal shift' to public transport and to self-powered, 'active', transport (which includes walking). At the very same time we 'decarbonise' road transport, aiming for zero emissions (which I think probably means no CO2 emitted) – and we must do that to our various freight systems too.

Let's look at a few issues that need sorting out. If I am to be persuaded to walk (even) more and if people a lot less mobile than me are to be persuaded to walk at all then we need safe, level unobstructed pavements; the cars parking on pavements have to move, road crossings need to be made far simpler and more reliable (I'd prefer the word effective). The services I seek need to be more frequent; in effect, to be closer – I'm happy to walk a mile, which will take me under 15 minutes and most folk a bit over 20 minutes. I draw the line at 35 minutes and instead take the car; to persuade me not to do this the target site needs to be replaced with something nearer and/or I need to find the use of a bicycle attractive. An attractive cycle ride requires several things not occurring: the roads need to be safe and perceived as safe for cycling; the parking of the bikes needs to be also safe and secure (and suitably regulated, insured, etc); the other users of bikes must themselves be trustworthy, safe, reliable and so on. What we have with e-bikes is a demonstration of technology escaping from regulation, in effect that means that the state is very much too slow at the production of regulation. Example, walking down a high street with a 20mph limit an e-cyclist sailed down the street in excess of 30mph, no hand signals, no matching ability to stop, no helmet and no insurance. This is unsafe and, while I honestly don't care if the idiot hurts himself, I do care that his uncaring behaviour has consequences for other residents. The e-bike is supposed to be limited to 15mph; the regulations are absent. This same cyclist (I recognise the bike, not the rider) is local and I have often seen him within a metre of a car at the speed limit, swerving around with no signals, including turning off the street with no signals (nor any looking I can detect). If only I could catch video, then the police would have some ammunition.

So I have decided that cycling is not something I wish to do, for all of those reasons above: I do not feel safe; I feel my bike is (would be) at risk whenever left; it takes so long to get it onto the street I'd have cleared the street completely on foot; I find the other road users intolerant, even when I can move at the speed limit (20mph is easily achieved on the flat is the road surface is adequate). 

Then there is the load-carrying issue for this active transport. I can easily see myself having shifted to active transport (I have already) whenever only light loads are required. By the time one has, on a bike, added suitable cycling clothing and locks there is little remaining capacity to carry a load such as shopping. At this point I see difficulty, none of which is impossible to work around if there is sufficient public will and incentive. We could shift from the weekly shop to having the weekly delivery, but a part of the weekly outing is to get ourselves out, together, and do a something together. That is not prevented if we were to take delivery, but the boss has real problems and issues with someone else making choices (of quite which leek/garlic/pepper etc to choose); we take the car. I use the car to go to band, often with my tuba; I see no viable way of doing this and not using a car. Blackpool has buses and a wonderful tram service, both free to this ancient person. I use neither. Well, I use the tram if forced to go somewhere that is on the tram route (the Prom) and further than I'm prepared to walk (again, 35 minutes appears to be my patience limit, which can be as far as 5km if I work up a light sweat).

Then there are the trains.

This is an utter disaster. I assume that trains are, unless you live very close to a line, for distance travel. I also assume that in very many cases and most of those on which the train companies rely, the train is used to commute for work, probably in a mixed travel journey. We should assume that, in any effort to move us away from the car and from a general need for transit, that city to city travel should be something we want to have. At the very least, we need a mass transport system for the movement of goods and we need this to be more efficient than the road system by all the measures that we have, from cost per mile and cost per tonne for each mile (I'd actually work in km) transported to tonnes of CO2 generated (or, better still, not generated).

There are relevant reports on the UK train system from 2010 and 2021 that, basically, say that the system is fragmented, complicated and expensive. "I believe that the industry should be aiming to achieve a 30~% reduction in unit costs by 2018/19" Sir Roy McNulty, lead author. He identifies three positive active solution spaces: an enabling environment, which means clarity and leadership but might require a central driving body; changes that deliver the major savings, which amounts to a range of management improvements, which I interpret as perhaps meaning a need to, in effect, renationalise the railways; effective approaches to drive implementation which he sees as a central command role that causes the many parties to work in co-operation. Of course nothing happened and it was not until the timetable fiasco in 2018 that there was any belated recognition that things need to change by HMG. In 2021 we were promised Great British Railways, GBR, but nothing happened, apart from a pandemic. As Private Eye put it, ..the current transport secretary Mark Harper told MPs it's "very much my intention to achieve the intention behind that idea" [the 2010 review], but he's taking time to listen to "alternative views". Keenest to bend his ear [this is the Eye] are the firms which profited before Covid from the "too expensive to run" model. They've won the first battle, as the government has indefinitely delayed legislating for GBR. Why bother reducing "waste and inefficiency" when you can simply keep on raising fares, even during a cost-of-living crisis?    

We have at last had it explained that HS2 is to provide additional infrastructure so that the whole network can carry more capacity. The press have, in general, touted this as the new fast line to London. This is, of course, London-centric. The rest of us want the infrastructure improved, but getting to London is a red herring. What is needed is additional capacity on the major routes, the East and west coast lines and a bundle of cross-routes such as those from Liverpool to Hull, buy including Manchester and Leeds. What I expect we will end up with is, yet again, London to Birmingham at astronomic cost. Thus we will have spent vast sums (which could have been spent decades earlier to effect) to actually fail to produce the needed change of more actual carrying capacity.

I'm afraid I don't see this as helpful. I agree we needed more capacity quite some time ago. What i see is a system quite as bad as our political system. we have franchisees making farcical sums of money from a system which fails to deliver the transport that is needed. This drives steadily more people onto the roads. If trains are genuinely greener than road transport (though a lot less good at actually delivering you to where you need to be) then they need to be timely, frequent, cheap and attractive. They are none of these things. It seems to me that persuading the vast majority to simply Not Travel but instead to visit places virtually, by Zoom, Skype, teams or whatever, is a generally greener solution. Who then, is left wanting to travel, once the commuters instead WfH most of every week? Politicians?

Message received: If you want to travel, stay local and walk or cycle. If you really must drive, we're going to make it steadily more and more expensive. Meanwhile, we will not provide public transport that is of any use to you and this, too, will be farcially expensive, because we (HMG) want to persuade you into the new excellent activity, not-traveling. Sit at home and use a screen instead. At the very same time get loads of exercise by walking and cycling everywhere within reach. Oh, and if you work in the hospitality business or in the countryside, we really don't care what you do, or can't. Not our problem.

DJS 20230202

I'll read more of the report at [1]. Eventually. My problem with this is that it is full of promises, "We will...." but that is, thanks to the broken promises of the past, no basis for trust that anything similar will occur.

Top pic from railinsider of what is expected to run on the HS2 line. Of course, we can expect the politicians to continue to fiddle with the HS2 project for short-term gains and long-term losses. Just as I doubt that the Leeds-Manchester link will occur, so I doubt that the result will be the high-speed link initially advertised. [That's what the politicians do, advertise; they announce things, judge the reaction and then modify their own actions in the light of what they think has occurred. That is leadership from the rear. If this is a ship of state, the guy on the rudder has not judged the reaction well – we're all over the place.]The taregeted, designed and advertised speed was 360-400kph. Link. Southampton University professor of geotechnical engineering and track expert William Powrie told New Civil Engineer that reducing the speed limit to 320km/h would save money by eliminating the need to run trains on a concrete slabtrack base, allowing track to be laid on cheaper ballast. For politicians, this is a no-brainer, taking no account of the increased costs in making such a decision.

[1] https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1009448/decarbonising-transport-a-better-greener-britain.pdf

[2] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/transport-decarbonisation-plan/additional-information-on-assumptions-used-to-develop-decarbonising-transport-scenarios

[3] https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/rail-value-for-money-study Actually, try this, the summary report:  https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/4203/realising-the-potential-of-gb-rail-summary.pdf

[4] https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/4204/realising-the-potential-of-gb-rail.pdf    May 2011 - is there nothing more recent?

[5] https://www.hs2.org.uk/why/ 


The BBC report says stage 1, London to Birmingham, has a target completion date of 2031. We'll see. Stage 2, which I think will not occur, connects the Midlands (meaning the Birmingham end of the line) with Leeds and Manchester, target completion of 2040. Gee, that's going to be ever so useful. Was the Channel Tunnel built faster? We started at £62bn but stage 1 is going to exceed £100bn. 

This page is in Arial 17 black. I think I marginally prefer 17 to 18.

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