High-speed rail could offer carbon savings of over 70%

High-speed rail networks have the potential to deliver massive carbon benefits but only if backed by bold Government policy initiatives and the right development choices, concludes a report commissioned by three UK environmental bodies.

Carbon emissions from making a trip by high-speed rail 2 (HS2), if it was already built, would be 73% lower than making the equivalent journey by car and 76% lower than flying. Those are the headline figures in a report on HS2 carried out for the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), RSPB and the Campaign for Better Transport.

Realising such potential, the report continues, will depend on making the ‘right choices’ on a number of key issues. These include making sure the electricity used to power HS trains is low carbon; that HS stations are located in city centres, rather than on the urban periphery; that developments around HS stations encourage the use of public transport, walking and cycling; that freed-up capacity on the existing rail network is allocated to long distance rail freight, and that policies are introduced to take passengers out of cars and planes and move them to HS2.

Noting that the Government’s own HS2 projections identify only a ‘modest saving in carbon of 0.6 million tonnes of CO2 over 60 years, the report’s authors state that savings could be four times that level if the system is made as ‘green as possible’.

RSPB’s head of climate change Harry Huyton, called for the Government to take ‘decisive action’ as a result of the report, focusing most critically on the low-carbon electricity issue.

CPRE’s senior transport campaigner Ralph Smyth, warned that if HS stations were wrongly located, such as in greenfield sites poorly served by public transport, the system would not only fail to reduce carbon emissions but would also have lower economic benefits.

The Campaign for Better Transport’s chief executive Stephen Joseph, said that using freed-up capacity on existing lines, particularly the West Coast Main Line, was key to the success of HS2.

“But it won’t happen,” he added, “unless Government signals now that it will make strategic investments in the freight potential of the existing network.”

edie staff

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