Welcome to the 'New Somerset and Dorset Railway'
Saturday, July 22, 2006
I bang on about Peak Oil regularly, and as a result climate change has taken something of a back seat. But this week's record heatwave reminds us all that global heating is happening, and a good deal faster than the government would like us to believe.
So what will climate change mean for the S&D? Obviously rail will be given absolute priority over road in the battle to contain emissions, because rail is so much more efficient in energy use than roads, partly because of the lack of friction between steel rail and wheel, and also because of the more efficient use of resources, both energy and material, that a train makes over the multitude of vehicles (many frivolous or terribly wasteful) that we still find on the roads. Rail vehicles last much longer than road vehicles, the recent EMU slam-door stock replaced on the Southern was anything up to 40 years or more old, whereas scrapyards are full of cars much younger than this.
Rail also copes far more efficiently in extreme weather. Snow blocks roads almost instantly, whereas with the right equipment (ploughs or blowers) railways can be kept open in falls of many feet. The dedicated right of way of the railway is far far easier to keep clear in snow than hundreds of minor roads. The sheer weight of a train can push through large quantities of snow, whereas cars and lorries become stuck fast. Remember the M11 a few years ago which became blocked for almost 24 hours after a ridiculous 2 inch snowfall? Snow may become a much bigger problem in the UK if the North Atlantic Current (Gulf Stream) slows or stops.
If the heat continues to build then roads will become unbearable, with melting surfaces and jams with cars breaking down as people try to escape the cities for the countryside and beaches to keep cool. Providing allowance for heat expansion is built into future rail construction then heat will be no problem at all for trains.
Britain's warming climate, together with the contraction of air travel (and the end of cheap air travel) will lead to hugely increased demand for holidays in the UK, particularly at the seaside resorts, long in decline and now already becoming one of the few winners thanks to climate change. The sooner we can take people to Bournemouth by train again the better!