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DIESEL trains are pumping out pollution that contributes to tens of thousands of deaths a year – and the government has failed to account for how much these trains produce.
The Department for Transport also shares part of the blame for dumping plans for rail electrification in the Midlands and the north of England, environmental campaigners reveal today.
The government’s lack of concern about pollution from diesel trains has been highlighted by the fact that it hasn’t a clue how much pollution the trains are pumping out.
Responding to a freedom of information request from the campaigners, the government said it could not supply anything.
Among pollutants from diesel trains are nitrogen oxides, which contribute to air pollution that causes an estimated 40,000 premature deaths a year in Britain.
Air pollution is also linked to childhood illnesses, heart disease and dementia.
Yet for eight years the government has failed to meet legal targets to curb pollution in 37 geographic zones which are monitored for the problem.
Rail electrification reduces pollution, but the DfT reneged on promises to extend electrification to the network, mainly in the Midlands and the north of England.
ClientEarth, the environmental law charity which has successfully sued the government over its air pollution plans, said the department was in a corner over clean air.
The charity’s head of public affairs Simon Alcock said: “The government’s failure to address this by fully electrifying railways is another symptom of the lack of a coherent strategy to clean up the air.
“That it also doesn’t seem to have evidence on the levels of certain pollutants says it all.”
He added: “It’s about time [Transport Secretary] Chris Grayling and the DfT and ministers across government started treating this public health crisis with the seriousness it deserves – and putting concrete solutions into action.”
Greenpeace campaigner Paul Morozzo said: “Electrifying the rail network would help with both climate concerns and the very poor air quality experienced at rail stations by passengers and staff.
“The government’s plan on this lacks ambition and clearly needs further consideration.”
Rail unions have accused Mr Grayling of lying over the reason for his decision to cancel three electrification projects last year.
His official justification was that the Great Western Main Line in south Wales, the Midland Main Line and the Lakes Line between Windermere and Oxenholme could be improved by upgraded trains.
However, the National Audit Office concluded last week that the main reason for the cancellation was financial.
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