Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The Train is the New Green.

As we grab our passports and Euros (since the U.K. has not yet adopted the European currency), I am imbued with a sense of virtue to note that we shall be heading for Nimes in the south of France by Eurostar - i.e. by train, not plane. Since we live in the South East of England, this is actually quite convenient; when I lived in Liverpool, in the North West of the country, it was less so, requiring around 4 hours to get to the terminal at Waterloo Station. From Reading, we should be able to make that first leg of our journey in about an hour. The reason for my sense of virtue is sight of a statistic that a traveller going to Paris and back on Eurostar is responsible for 10 times less CO2 than an equivalent journeyman making that distance by air. This is the result of study by Eurostar, and is a fair comment, and one that should be roundly expressed. It does place pressure on the airlines, though, who at present pay no tax on their fuel - unlike the railways which do. The latter is one reason why cheap air fares remain on offer, although there are "surcharges" being imposed on longer haul flights, and all in all, both on grounds of meeting the government's CO2 emission targets, and the expediency of cost, once the two forms of transport are matched level-to-level, the aircraft industry will begin to see a decline.
The same may become true of road haulage, and I note that Tesco is now moving 20% of its Anglo-Scottish traffic over to train transport, in freight containers proudly emboldened with the slogan "Less CO2". As university chemistry departments close down all over the country, it is to be hoped that most readers of the corrugated container sides know that CO2 is chemical shorthand for "carbon dioxide", and this is a greenhouse gas, thought responsible for climate change and global warming. I would reckon, however, that most drivers getting to work on the M1 motorway will be more concerned with more immediate matters, like not getting stopped by the police for using their hand-held mobile phones while driving, which is quite rightly now illegal in the U.K.
Undoubtedly, travel will become an increasingly pressing issue, and both on grounds of cutting CO2 emissions and reducing fuel consumption per se, as supplies become compromised post Peak Oil, there will be less journeys made, using all forms of transport. The drivers (so to speak) for this change will undoubtedly be of an economic kind, and within 10 years, the sheer cost of fuel will have forced a substantial number of planes to stay on the ground. However, it is doubtful that train journeys, including by Eurostar, will become correspondingly cheaper. Car use will fall too, especially of fuel-thirsty SUV "Hummer" type vehicles, and so life will become steadily of a more localised nature, walking, cycling or using trams, and we may perhaps discover some advantages in this.

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