Why investment in rail is a green choice for cities

13 April 2023: With the climate crisis affecting every organisation and sector, how we do business and how we live need to change. Encouraging the use of rail as one of the lowest carbon forms of medium- to long- distance travel should tick a big green box. There is of course, a challenge in accelerating the investment in rail infrastructure, but this will, ultimately, deliver an improved experience for customers and drive the popularity of rail. The government statistics on transport emissions illustrate that rail is roughly a quarter of the carbon emissions compared with other transportation modes. France has gone as far as to ban domestic flights where trains can do the same journey in under 2.5 hours.

Therefore, demand needs to shift towards rail, and those who are already choosing it need to have a positive experience to keep doing so. Alternative ways to fund this experience must be explored as limited government spending is hostage to other priorities and pressure on train fares should be avoided with the cost-of -living crisis.

The current planning proposals for London’s Liverpool Street station provide a compelling model for delivering public and private benefit. Through a partnership with MTR UK and Network Rail, the project is working to deliver a step change in (and step-free) customer experience that treats transport hubs as exciting 24/7 destinations in their own right.  The proposal is a significant circa £450m investment in public infrastructure funded by a net zero office and hotel over-station development. It aims to drastically improve the experience of the 135 million people using Liverpool Street station annually in recent years and allows for future growth of passenger numbers.

 An important aspect of all transport infrastructure in the modern era should be accessibility and ensuring that anybody can move around public transport terminals with ease. With its step-free design, the Elizabeth line marks a leap forward for accessibility in central London; the rest of the network should follow suit, by removing the many physical barriers that still exist for many. Compare this basic standard to Liverpool Street station, where there is currently only one fully accessible lift.

It should be unthinkable that the main transport hub for one of the centres of global commerce currently reflects an almost archaic attitude to inclusiveness.

Making transport terminals fully accessible to people of limited mobility will also help families with young children or passengers with luggage, easing people’s journeys will encourage them to use the train, the Underground or other public transport, rather than cars.

 The approach at Liverpool Street station is also heritage and sustainability led and minimises operational and embodied carbon emissions. The existing listed hotel is being retained with heritage features restored, while the Victorian train sheds are not being touched and much of the station structure put in as part of the 1990’s redevelopment being retained. Residual impacts from elements of the new development will be offset from renewable power sources in operation, and the construction impacts are offset by measures that provide additional carbon abatement.

This development should be a new model for how net zero carbon development of transport infrastructure can be used to improve the lives of so many people – from commuters, visitors and occupiers to, importantly the local community – on a daily basis.

By Meredith Davey ESG Director and Head of Sustainability at Sellar.

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