by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM) believes that the development of public transport is critical to achieving a sustainable transport system and creating a low carbon society.

Transport is currently the fastest growing source of pollution contributing to climate change and is responsible for 28 percent of carbon dioxide emissions in the UK. Our existing transport network does not facilitate sustainable modes of travel.

The CIWEM’s newly published Manifesto calls for the replacement of our reliance on personal transport with more attractive public transport options that will help meet EU emission targets. A holistic transport policy is needed to link urban and national systems, with central Government playing a proactive role rather than leaving it to local authorities.

The CIWEM calls for revolutionizing car use through the re-balance of subsidies and introduction of use-based road charging. Increased taxation of car use should be ring-fenced to improve public transport and the UK’s history of strong engineering expertise and innovation should be incentivized to help develop new modes of personal transport and automotive technologies.

Investment in high speed rail would reduce the need for environmentally damaging domestic flights and long distance car journeys; greater investment is needed in safe and accessible walking and cycling routes; bus fleets need to be run increasingly on hydrogen or electricity, and public facilities need to be improved. Short haul flights need to be made less attractive to try to encourage other more sustainable types of transport and there must be an end to new airport capacity and environmentally damaging subsidies for the aviation industry. The CIWEM also calls for the development of transport hubs to increase the use of rail for freight.

The CIWEM’s Manifesto says: “The Government’s current policy of ever increasing road capacity is not a long term solution. Over the next decade, a sea change in behaviour towards personal transport is needed with expansion of walking, cycling and collective transport. A new era of mass public transport is crucial, with fast rail capacity increased dramatically and major investigation into new local rail links, tram systems and bus services. These will produce fewer emissions, require less land and increase transport capacity compared to that of private transport.”

The much touted high-speed rail is not the first thing that we should consider but instead we must look (1) at re-nationalizing the British railroad system, passenger first of all and then freight and (2) provide passenger travel at a reasonable cost, not at £215 return to Birmingham from say, Surrey.

People will not switch from car or plane to rail when costs of rail travel are so much higher, in the case Surrey to Birmingham on the day it was 400% higher nigh on, than air travel. This simply does not compute.

Let us get a national passenger rail service that works on fares that everyone in this country can afford, then add freight to it, also at competitive rates, and we may actually get somewhere.

Most people will be happy to travel to Birmingham or Manchester in three hours at regular thirty minute or so intervals rather than thirty-five minutes high speed, at a low cost. With – ideally – free WiFi connections provided on the train I am sure the business traveler will be happy enough to work while traveling those couple of hours than to pay hundreds for the privilege of going by fast rail.

Instead of spending billions on developing a high-speed rail system Britain – and other countries too, of that I am sure – would do well to invest that money in the current network by upgrading and extending that, and making train travel affordable, once again.

© 2009