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Green Party Perspective: Sustainable Transport

This article was written by Lesley Grahame, a Green Party Councillor in Norwich and first published in the NOR4NOR 2017 Newspaper.

Many people get sentimental about railways, I am one of them. From my window, I've seen rabbits, foxes and the occasional deer on the land around the tracks. My two holidays of a lifetime have been inter-railing when I was 21, and again later in life with my family when my son was 21.

Between those big trips, I learned about climate change and made big decisions, such as deciding not to fly except in a dire emergency. This was an easy choice for me at the time, but its a very difficult one for many people who have to cross continents to see family. Family is obviously important, and so is seeing family grow up in the kind of world you'd like to leave them: one free from hunger, conflict, and forced migration. So 'business as usual' is making our climate more unstable, and our food supply more insecure, leading to conflict and forced migration. The Green party proposes a safer, kinder vision of the future.

When government talks about vital national infrastructure, they should be talking - and spending our money on - local and intercity rail (not the vanity project of HS2), bus and renewable energy projects, not new roads or airport runways. Travelling by train creates two thirds less cuts emissions compared flying, or half from driving, based on a small car with one passenger.

Travelling by train creates two thirds less cuts emissions compared flying, or half from driving...

This of course varies according to how full the train is, and from highly polluting diesel trains to non-polluting electric trains, however, electricity is only as clean its fuel source. Clean renewable energy can be be massively scaled up to power our rail network, especially tidal energy, which is always available. The sooner we cut our emissions, the less drastic the descent required to stop runaway climate change, and the sooner we reduce the annual toll of 30,000 pollution related early deaths. If we can do rocket science, we can do clean energy science.

Transport accounts for about one quarter of climate emissions, of which more than half is from private cars, with aviation catching up. 70% of flights are made by 15% of people, and the absence of VAT or aviation fuel tax can also be viewed as a £16bn public subsidy for the industry, which is four times the support that government gives to railways.

Only a nationally owned company could secure and co-ordinate the necessary investment to re-open or re-route closed lines, electrify rail lines, powered with a clean renewable energy source and co-ordinate fair and understandable ticketing, connected journeys and safe staffing levels. Green MP Caroline Lucas has twice introduced a Railways Bill to bring contracts back in-house as they come to an end, but sadly this was not supported by other parties.

Sustainable travel is a matter of conscience for individuals and should be high priority policy for governments. With the political will, public transport can drive the kind of economy that provides well paid, worthwhile jobs as a public service, spreading wealth by employing people and enabling us to get where we want to go, reliably, cleanly and affordably.

Photo: John Grey Turner / Flickr Creative Commons

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