RAIL’S assumed environmental advantage (RG 12.04 p811) took a few more knocks on November 19 at a high-level conference on railways and the environment in Berlin attended by around 200 representatives from business and politics.

The 22 senior railway managers from 17 European countries who were present, along with rail executives from Asia and Africa, heard that huge strides had been in made in the design of modern lorries in terms of reducing noise and exhaust emissions. Not only that, but the latest Airbus A321 aircraft consumed less energy per seat over a given distance than a Eurostar trainset.

There was a consistent view that most countries would continue to invest more in their road networks than in rail, prompting Vice-President of the European Parliament Miroslav Ouzky to assert that ’investment in railways will determine their future’. Indeed it will, and we repeat our assertion elsewhere in this edition that rail must still justify its existence against its competitors.

This view was echoed by Director of the European Investment Bank Thomas Barrett, who said ’both society and the EU and national institutions will increasingly acknowledge the advantages rail has to offer when railways demonstrate that they are making a real difference to improvements in public transport and freight.’

Margareta Wolf, Germany’s Parliamentary State Secretary for the Environment, felt that it was time for the ’polluter pays’ principle to be invoked in calculating the environmental costs of transport, and she saw ’encouraging signals’ from the European Commission that has just taken office. n