Birmingham Friends of the Earth Newsletter February 2002/March 2002
A New Year - a New Campaign
FOE has in the past campaigned tyrelessly for a more sustainable and integrated
transport network, and against excessive car use, needless road building, wasteful
lorry journeys and air transport. Now it's time to campaign for a mode which has
one of the lowest impacts on the environment - Rail. With the railways being
such a big issue at the moment and the rail industry as a whole sitting at an
unprecedented crossroads in its history, it made sense to launch a separate Rail
Railway privatisation was rushed through in the mid-1990s by the Major Government
amidst great opposition. Few can deny that the whole process was botched, due
in part to that Government's desire to push it through before the end of their
term. It is probably true that the main motivation was to reduce the financial
'burden' on the Treasury although service benefits from 'free competition' were trumpeted
as one of the biggest advantages. Few of these benefits materialised.
Privatisation: could it have been worse?
Surprisingly, yes it could! Vociferous opposition to some of the worst excesses
of the original privatisation plans resulted in many valuable concessions being
won by transport campaigners and some politicians. As a result, many network
benefits were safeguarded, such as inter-available tickets - tickets valid on
all operators' services between two given points. Furthermore, nearly all stations
including local ones are still able to sell you a ticket to any destination on
the national rail network. Thus it is still possible to buy a through ticket
from Selly Oak to Tunbridge Wells for instance, even though such a journey involves
using the services of up to four different train operators.
Such benefits to the travelling public were taken for granted under British Rail
but would have been lost forever under the new regime. Any added complexity
in using the rail network (ie loss of through ticketing and inter-available tickets)
would have deterred many travellers from using it. Result - more people use their
cars and the environment loses out.
There have been a few success stories under privatisation, but whether these
are attributable to privatisation or not is open to debate. The growth in rail
freight for instance may have been possible under BR had the political will been
Now we are left with a fragmented, incoherent rail industry consisting of more
than 100 separate companies. It is unable to satisfy the needs of the public
and freight customers, and crucially unable to deliver the Government's 1997 promise
to reduce the growing volume of traffic on our roads.
With the well publicised problems of Railtrack and the neglect of its network,
the railway infrastructure has deteriorated, and the reliability of services
has suffered. Public confidence in the rail services is now at a low ebb, and
more people and goods are travelling by less environmentally sustainable forms
Rail is the one of the least environmentally damaging forms of transport and
for a sustainable transport policy to work in a crowded island like ours, it
is vital that we have some semblance of an efficient, reliable and well used
network for both passengers and freight. It is more energy efficient than other
forms of motorised transport, and makes much more efficient use of space than
road transport. Check the facts below: some of them you may find surprising.
There's no time like the present! The structure of the rail industry is currently
in a state of flux. With Transport Minister Stephen Byers having placed Railtrack
into administration, it is important that we seize this golden opportunity and
have some input into the debate about the restructuring of the railway industry
and the shape of the network we would like to see in the future.
* Rail makes more efficient use of land - a double track railway can carry 10
times as many people per hour as a two lane road.
* Travelling by rail can reduce your contribution to climate change; emissions
of CO2 per passenger km are on average half that of travel by car.
* Road transport burns 80 times more energy than rail transport, while the distance
travelled by road passengers and road freight was only 15 times as much.
* Although rail carries 7% of UK traffic, it emits only 0.2% of carbon monoxide,
2% of nitrous oxide, 1% of volatile organic compounds and 2.5% of sulphur dioxide
* Electric trains provide zero emission transport at point of use, relieving
localised pollution problems. Switching to renewable generation resources such
as wind and solar gives even greater environmental benefits.
* Energy efficiency: A rail passenger travelling at high speed even up to 200km/hr
uses only 0.8 - 1.0MJ of energy compared to 1.4 - 2.8MJ for a car driver /passenger.
What would Friends of the Earth like to see?
We believe that an efficient and reliable rail network should be the very spine
of an environmentally sustainable and integrated transport system, playing a
crucial role both on its own and thoughtfully integrated with other modes of
transport, such as cycling, walking, and buses. To achieve this, we feel that
the following needs to happen:
* A significant shift of funding away from damaging road scheme to railways as
part of a proper integrated transport system.
* A publicly controlled and publicly accountable rail industry with a structure
which would allow service improvements for passengers and freight customers
* A strategic plan for rail investment which sets targets to boost passenger
numbers and railfreight by improving existing services and introducing new ones.
Where do we go from here?
We are planning some major actions for March/April 2002 as part of a national
FOE campaign, raising awareness about the need for a better rail network, and
focusing on the issues which are important for people using services serving
Birmingham and the West Midlands. We will be working together with our colleagues
at Transport 2000, the Railway Development Society/Rail Future and Rail User
groups, all of which have many years of experience on rail issues.
Through the course of the campaign, it would be nice to think that we could secure
some tangible service benefits or station improvements for rail passengers in
Birmingham. Ultimately we hope to persuade Chancellor Gordon Brown to switch
more funds to improving the rail network in time for his public spending review
scheduled for June/July. However before this we need to find out passengers' main
concerns about their rail services. Perhaps some of you feel that passenger security
is a problem at some stations. Poor connections with other trains and with buses
may be another cause for concern. We will be carrying out passenger surveys at
local railway stations to find out what Birmingham and the West Midlands really
wants for its rail network. We will be collating this information to help us
focus on those elements of the rail services which are of major concern and need
What can you do?
As an Action Briefing reader you can help us now. If you have any thoughts on
the local rail network or have any experiences of using trains serving Birmingham
and the West Midlands (not just local services), then we would like to hear from
you. Tell us about the problems you have experienced as a rail passenger, or
maybe you have suggestions as to how things could be improved. Please fill in
the questionnaire enclosed and return it to Birmingham FOE. Any information will
be gratefully received and will be valuable in helping us with our campaign.
If you want to find more about the campaign or help with the questionnaire contact
Birmingham Friends of the Earth on 0121 632 6909, or
check out the FOE
(C) 2002 Birmingham Friends of the Earth