Parry People Movers

Rail’s Environmental Advantage is Deteriorating

A letter from PPM published in Local Transport Today, 18th November 2004:

In your last issue you carried a short report on the joint Association of Train Operating Companies/Railway Forum booklet on rail and environment (LTT 4 Nov).  It may indeed “correct a recent comparison of the environmental effects of road and rail traffic” but your item could have made a wider point. 

Rail is intrinsically better than road transport in environmental terms, due to the lower resistance of rail-on-wheel compared to tyre-on-tarmac.  It is therefore highly disappointing that road’s environmental performance should be improving faster than rail’s.  The rail industry should – of course – be improving over time as a result of good practice in engineering, research and development.  It isn’t. 

The fundamental environmental issue for any transport system is the energy it requires to operate.  This is driven by two key factors: vehicle mass and energy management.  The position of rail is actually worsening in the former and continues to be poor in the latter.  Recent train builds have a higher mass per passenger than their predecessors.  Not good for rolling stock with a life of 35 years.  There is also scope for significant changes in managing energy.  Regenerative braking and energy storage – already incorporated in Parry People Movers vehicles achieving seven to eight times the fuel economy of diesel train for branch lines – are surely sensible ways to reduce energy consumption.  With smaller numbers of larger vehicles compared to road, rail is in a far better position to exploit this approach. 

The environmental performance of rail transport may be superior to that of its road counterpart but this straight comparison hides disappointing trends.  As a supporter of rail, it gives me no pleasure to observe that progress that could – and should – have been made has not occurred, and in some cases retrograde steps have been taken. 

Caspar Lucas
Projects Manager
Parry People Movers
Cradley Heath B64