Image credit: Stephen Fung — a typical high-speed train in Taiwan
UK Conservative's Plan for Trains No Planes — Green or Not?
We TreeHuggers tend to be big advocates of the environmental benefits of trains vs. planes, so we should all be overjoyed that the UK Conservative Party, who are currently riding high in the polls, have announced plans to scrap a third runway at Heathrow and to instead build a £20bn (US$36bn) rail link between London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds. And according to The Guardian, the Conservatives' radical rethink of transport policy has certainly received a welcome response from some environmentalists, including John Stewart, the chairman of Heathrow anti-expansion group Hacan:
"The Conservatives realise that business is not clamouring for a third runway. What they desperately want is a better rather than a bigger Heathrow. This announcement today is good for business, good for the environment and good for local residents."
However, it's not just business groups that are questioning the move (David Frost, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said the move would "hold back British business in the future."). According to seasoned transport commentator Christian Wolmar, the idea that high-speed rail would result in significant carbon savings is somewhat simplistic:
"Apart from the myriad practical details about the precise location of the route and so on, there is the question too of how green the line would be. It would be powered by electricity largely drawn from non-renewable sources, unless there were a transformation of the energy economy in the intervening decade. While there might be some carbon savings compared with the car, these would probably be more than offset by the extra travel that would be generated by the line.
There is an interesting example already on the existing high speed line. In order to increase usage of the line, the government decided to pay for the purchase of high speed trains that will bring in thousands of commuters from Kent. Indeed, housing is now being built in the Ashford area to accommodate them and therefore the overall effect is to encourage people to travel longer distances. The environmental case for high speed lines, therefore, is far from proven."
Looks to me like the debate continues.
::The Guardian::via site visit::
More on Alternatives to Flying
Seat 61: Get There Without Flying
Eurostar to Cut Emissions 25% and Offset the Rest
Spain's New High-Speed Rail Challenging the Airlines
High-Speed Rail Comes to the Americas
CA High-Speed Rail Initiative: "If We Don't Pass This, We Will Never Have High-Speed Trains in the US"