The climate argument for cheaper rail fares


Here’s a startling statistic. Rail only accounts for 1.8% of CO2 emissions from transport in the UK. Cars ands lorries make up 75%:  It should be a no-brainer for any government keen to tackle climate change: develop a clear strategy to persuade people to switch from road to rail.

Modal shift required

The Government will point out that more people are travelling by rail than have done so for decades. It is true. But the ‘m’ and ‘s’ phrase is missing: modal switch. More people are travelling by road as well. Except in a very few areas , people are not switching from road to rail.

The Government will also say – quite correctly – that it is investing huge sums in new infrastructure. But, in a world threatened by runaway climate change, on its own, that is not enough. And, indeed, may be counter-productive if it just results in more travel per se. What’s required is a significant switch from road to rail. What’s needed is a real reduction in the number of cars on our roads.

And that’s where pricing comes in. A clear policy of ensuring it is always cheaper for a working family to travel by train rather than by car would result in the modal shift required.

Support the FareFail campaign

But pricing is going the other way. Rail fares are shooting up way above inflation. That’s why the Campaign against Climate Change is urging its supporters to get involved with the FareFail campaign.

On Valentine’s Day - this Thursday morning - FareFail supporters will be giving out leaflets at scores of stations across the country to call for an end to this fares madness. The Government argues that the higher fares are required so that the contribution of the taxpayer to the cost of the railways falls. But in climate terms it is madness.

To tackle climate change with the deep urgency that is needed requires both investment in rail and lower fares as part of a clear policy to reduce the number of vehicles on the roads. In the end it also makes economic sense, creating new jobs and bringing down fares even further as more people use the trains.

Put Beeching in reverse

Fifty years ago in March Dr Beeching published his now infamous report that resulted in so much of the country’s network being destroyed. As a small boy I remember being taken to a remote station in the Scottish Highlands to jeer at Dr Beeching as he sped past in an engine surveying the rail system he was so keen to close. That line was saved but many were axed.

I don’t expect Dr Beeching had ever heard of climate change. Today’s decision-makers most certainly have. To help tackle it requires putting Beeching into reverse gear.