Let's hear it for the train, for freight as much as for passengers

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

I love trains, always have and I love travelling by train. Mind you, I do not have a driver's license and I do not own a car. So, well, you say, no wonder he is for public transport, for the train and the bus. There is only one major drawback with this in the UK – that is the cost. It is in fact more expensive, and this is stupid, I know, to travel by train, say, from the south of London to Birmingham International, than to fly there by internal airlines from Gatwick, for instance. And it is a lot cheaper by plane; it costs only about a third of the standard return fair to Birmingham. Now this is absolutely ridiculous, I know. But such is the state of affair in the UK and still the govt think that they can get people to use the train again on a more general basis. I do not think so. Not until we get the prices down to a sustainable level where it pays for people to use the train rather than plane or car. This will mean that we need to get the railroads back into either public ownership or into the hands of social entrepreneurs. We also must make the trains run on time, all the time...

Aside from passenger transportation and transit trains have a (much greater) value in the transportation of goods, of freight, from one end of the country to the other, from place to place, as well as across borders even.

It is absolute and utter madness that we have allowed our railroad infrastructure to go to rack and ruin and into total disrepair and that we have closed lines, whether they were small branch lines, as they are always referred to, or also bigger lines. In the world of today where we are being told to reduce the “carbon footprint” the railroads must be brought back into operations. While some sections of track were ripped up and turned into cycle paths (some have and those that are not as yet turned into such but have no rails left on them should either be pronto or have rails place back on them and the trains reinstated) those that still have their track should be refurbished rather speedily and brought back into use and even wood-burning locomotives should be brought back into service to pull trains on the smaller lines. Am I mad, you ask. No, not in the slightest. In fact wood is a renewable resource and could be used – again – to power steam trains. Yes, I do say steam trains.
And why should we bring back all the railroad infrastructure? Well, because transporting things by rail is extremely energy efficient, and efficiency means cheaper goods, heftier bottom lines, and mitigated climate change.

Currently we use diesel fuel or other relatively heavy polluters to power our freight trains, and also for road transport, and diesel means pollution, which in the end is not good for us, our planet and the climate. But the proposition that a diesel train engine, pulling hundreds of freight or passenger cars, could feasibly use a less polluting, carbon neutral fuel like cellulose-based ethanol seems a much more feasible than the concept of putting corn-based fuels in the tanks of Hummers. However, we already have a cellulose-based fuel with which to power the trains that does not even need converting and this is wood. In addition to that fuel pellets could be used, such as those for furnaces nowadays, that are even made from forest residues, saw dust, and such like, and I am even convinced could be made by recycling cardboard.

Another means of transporting freight that we must bring back into use are the inland waterways and the freight “barges”.

First of all, however, aside from getting freight off the roads and back onto the rails we also must do the same as regards to people. While, as we will see in another, forthcoming, article, the miles travelled annually by the public in the United Kingdom has risen to the greatest amount since World War II when troop movements, mostly carried out by train, helped to raise the figure, we must reduce the cost of travel by railroad in Britain. It cannot be that a return flight to Birmingham from London or to Northern Ireland from London is cheaper by far than using the train. This just does not make sense and will never get the public out of the car or the plane and back onto the train. Let's use some sense here.

© M Smith (Veshengro), April 2008