Trains are Especially Vulnerable to Climate Change. Bicycles are not.

As we’ve seen from the tragic accident in Scotland last week, the U.K. rail network is facing an existential risk from the climate disaster. That might sound hyperbolic. But when you consider the likely future of self driving cars, a dramatic reduction in vehicles on the road as a result; the rise of electric bikes and the inevitable mass rollout of associated infrastructure, it doesn’t look promising for the rail industry.

As I’ve recently written, the rail network is already going to be threatened by the other forms of transport I’ve mentioned due to the fact that the network hasn’t been invested in for so long. It’s not like in Japan where they wouldn’t walk away from such a great system. Loyal daily passengers will only remain loyal for so long if they’re dissatisfied with the service they’re receiving.

But it’s when you couple that with the threat of climate change that things really unravel. I’ve been following the weekly update videos Network Rail put out on their YouTube channel for a while now. There’s an obvious trend in that they’re constantly having to fix damage caused by extreme weather. It’s mainly landslips but also work on reinforcing sea walls to protect against sea spray. Landslips in particular must be costing NR huge amounts of money, and it’s money that is not being spent on upgrading the ageing infrastructure. Watching TV shows about railways just shows how much disruption is already being caused from rain, storms, heat etc. It’s only going to get worse, and as we’ve seen this week, it can be deadly.

Road transport I believe to be at less risk from the climate disaster, but I would say the main benefits will be as we switch to autonomous driving. Because we have so many privately owned cars, the cars are parked all over the country, so whenever extreme weather hits, the cars can’t be moved and they get written off and float down the road.

However, once we stop owning cars and we replace them with self driving fleets, the number of cars in the country will drop potentially 90%. This will not only eliminate traffic, but it will also allow vehicles to avoid flooded roads or be moved to a safe location before the weather hits if it’s scheduled to hit a wide area. Because our road network is completely connected, if one road is flooded, they can go another direction. Trains can’t do that, and that’s a giant problem that the rail industry will struggle to get around.

Since the benefits for road traffic mainly take effect once we go autonomous, and that technology doesn’t exist yet; at the moment the only way to minimise the risk of flood or storm damage is to get rid of your car and buy a bike. Even a big, heavy cargo bike can be taken upstairs with your couch and the rest of your belongings. You’re not going to leave it to be flood damaged if you can avoid it. With a car, there’s very little you can do, especially if the weather is unexpected or worse than forecast.

It’s true for the infrastructure as well. It would be far cheaper to build elevated bike routes and bridges in high risk areas than it would be for other modes. We need to do everything we can to improve infrastructure and reduce risk. Invest in the rail network, move away from car ownership, and make us a bike society.


What’s the Actual Solution for Sustainable Suburban Travel?

Considering most people’s commutes and daily errands are easily eBike compatible distances, even in big countries like the US. It’s quite obvious that we’re utterly failing in tackling our desperate climate and air pollution crises.

Not only would it be far cheaper to incentivise cycling and eBikes, electric kick scooters etc, but we would get rid of traffic, be healthier and happier. We’d take an immense amount of strain off of health services (who as we’ve heard, are overstretched and struggling).

It’s so bloody obvious, and yet we’re having to campaign for segregated bike routes. Why should we campaign for common sense? Why the fuck should anyone do that?

It’s becoming clear to me that electric vehicles of the non-autonomous variety are not going to solve much. We can’t get them into widespread use quickly enough when we consider how quickly the climate crisis is accelerating.

We can’t wait until 2025 for the other manufacturers to make EVs in significant volumes. Tesla are different because every car they’re building can instantly transition into being a RoboTaxi. No other car can, so they are effectively useless. And that’s new EVs. Let alone new fossil cars (including hybrids).

We also have a ridiculous situation with the sizes of cars ever increasing, the roads staying them same, while still encouraging people to cycle. Anyone think that makes sense? I talked to people at work about commuting by bike. They thought I was mad. When I asked if they would do it if there were traffic free routes, they said they would. It doesn’t get more clear than that.

The British Cycling survey that I participated in and that was just released showed that even ‘hardcore’ road cyclists don’t feel safe on the roads. How can you expect people to take up cycling for the first time in that kind of environment? I took several years off from cycling when I was younger. When I returned to cycling, I remember I was scared and had to slowly build my confidence back, starting on quiet roads. And I was an experienced rider with years of road riding in my past. So I can’t even imagine how it would feel to a complete novice.

So what do we do? For a start, instantly transition into spending all money that would be allocated to new roads into new or upgraded micro mobility infrastructure. Instead of simply patching up potholes so they can quickly wear out again, use the opportunity to redesign the entire road layout and incorporate cycling into areas previously thought too narrow. Make more one way systems in towns and cities. If the cars are autonomous, they’re not going to get confused and annoyed like us stupid humans anyway (if you’re anything like me). And if you’ve got half the road dedicated to micro mobility, then chances are we’re going to choose bike or scooter anyway.

We also need to improve public transport with electric buses. We need good quality cycle hire schemes for when you’re not at home and don’t have your own bike with you. Then of course there’s trains, trams, subways, high speed trains built alongside motorways (so they don’t destroy the countryside further).

Something you see in Denmark and Japan especially are bicycle “multi storey car parks”. Secure, paid bike parks in all urban areas, business parks etc that treat bicycles as real vehicles. Not cheap, disposable, rusty pieces of junk. These are essential in my view. People will probably scoff, but like I said, why should you campaign for common sense? When things have been proven in other countries, you just go ahead and implement it yourself.

We also need to reduce our populations to sustainable levels with common sense proposals to do so. We need to build up rather than out in our cities. We can’t all live in big, detached houses filled with crap we don’t need. We need to embrace tunnels more than we do now. I don’t agree with everything The Boring Company is doing but generally they are on the right track. Hyperloop is the holy grail when it comes to allowing us a way to continue global tourism into the long term without destroying the planet. But we don’t know how far away that is, and I’m getting away from the suburban focus of this post.

There are so many aspects of sustainability that go far beyond just transport. Maybe I’ll get into them in another post. But for now, please let me know if you have any other ideas for local transport. I might have missed something obvious.