Environmental pressure is rising but can it overtake the traffic? Joyce Dundas reports on collisions and prospects.
Pace is not a word that immediately suggests itself when considering road traffic in the UK but it is appropriate to the rate of increase in the vehicles clogging our thoroughfares. That pace is frightening and the environmental pressures to control it are understandably accelerating. The Government recently revealed plans to improve the road network, but many believe that investment in new road space is not an answer but an aggravation: it attracts more cars and encourages the heaviest juggernauts.
After publication of the Government White Paper "This Common Inheritance" in August 1990, both freight hauliers and environmentalists complained that it did not go far enough. The Government, whether as an election ploy or not, has now realised that it must make a serious effort to tempt goods hauliers to move freight by rail.
Some of the largest distribution companies in the UK are now emitting all sorts of green concerns on everything from exhaust fumes to waste management. BRS, the country's largest truck operator, recently appointed environmental policy expert Environment Business to develop a plan for the future of the company which ensures that it can go green cost effectively. The result is a detailed policy covering issues in every possible shade of green.
BRS is now investing heavily in aerodynamic, fuel-efficient trucks as opposed to fitting catalytic converters, hush kits and particulates separators to its trucks, ignoring, it would seem, the media hype in favour of solid results. BRS and Exel Logistics, both part of the larger NFC, claim that research into catalytic converters and the like has not yet reached a high enough standard to make them a sound investment. Aerodynamics is the only area in which performance is proven to justify large expenditure. In tests energy savings of 22 to 26% have been achieved. "BRS feels that fuel economy is the way forward," stresses Theo de Pencier, managing director of commercial services. "Through aerodynamics and by training drivers to drive friendly, we feel we can be environmentally friendly and cost efficient."
BRS now runs five driver training schools, where the most popular course is the one covering fuel economy. De Pencier claims that when the drivers are trained, companies can see benefits of up to around 20% in terms of fuel efficiency.
Road hauliers may be turning green, but groups like Transport 2000, the environmental transport pressure group based in London, would like to see a move away from road transport altogether. Stephen Joseph, director of Transport 2000, insisted for a long time that the Government could do more and welcomes the change in policy towards higher grants for rail freight but would still like to see road transport companies taxed at a higher rate to pay for the damage they are doing.
Progress down the green road has been slow, but new technological developments in rail freight haulage may speed the flow. Tiphook Rail recently perfected the "piggyback" wagon, which is designed with a swivelling ramp to allow loads to be transferred direct from road to rail without using lifts or cranes.
These are the first British Rail-approved bi-modal trains to be used in this country. "The natural marriage of road and rail to transport goods over long distances has long been an accepted concept on the continent and in the US," says Tiphook Rail's managing director, John Emms, portentously. In fact the piggyback system was developed due to a combination of environmental and pan-European pressures and this little piggy is small enough to go through the Channel tunnel.
So far Tiphook's biggest customer has been Charterail, a joint venture between the private sector and British Rail, based at Cricklewood in north London. Being part financed by BR has meant that it can count on BR's unrestrained support, giving it an enviable edge over the competition. Charterail is attempting to fill part of the gap left after the demise of BR's Speedlink service and to halt the marked decline in rail freight activity. Its purpose is to create a market-oriented rail system geared specifically towards the customer's needs.
New trends in distribution - fewer but larger factories situated outside major towns, and a greater concentration of the retail sector inside towns - mean that fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) have to be taken over longer distances. The fastest way to move FMCGs over those distances is by rail.