The amount of diesel pollution on some new trains is 13 times higher than on one of the busiest roads in central London, researchers found.
Passengers traveling aboard a Great Western Railway carriage traveling from London to Bristol, procured by the government as part of a £ 5.7bn scheme. Pounds, are exposed to huge increases in the pollution of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) as they switched to diesel from electric.
NO2 levels on the two-year two-mode Hitachi trains peaked at more than 13 times the average recorded on the congested Marylebone Road in central London, according to a study by the Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB).
The Ministry of Transport (DfT) said the ministers had commissioned more research into “the findings in question” as well as an immediate review of air quality standards and regulations for trains.
The Hitachi built-in bi-modes were part of a 5.7 billion government procurement. £ of trains to run on the Great Western mainline and the east coast, with a controversial design that twined diesel and electric power. The trains were also recently suddenly pulled out of service after cracks were discovered in the carriages.
GWR trains run on electricity from London to Cardiff, but services further west and southwest run on diesel. Planned electrification of part of the line to South Wales as well as the branch from Chippenham to Bath and Bristol Temple Meads was scrapped by then-Transport Secretary Chris Grayling in 2017 after huge budget overruns.
Pollution increases significantly when trains are in tunnels or idling at stations, the RSSB said. Passengers on trains pulled by diesel locomotives are more exposed to fumes when sitting in front of the cars, the researchers found, possibly due to the way the exhaust is drawn into the train’s windows or air conditioners.
The RSSB examined six types of diesel trains and found high levels of particulate pollution on older diesel trains powered by the Avanti West Coast, Super Voyager Class 221 models built by Alstom.
However, the RSSB concluded: “Newer train types do not necessarily have better air quality on board compared to older trains.” The worst NO2 pollution was found on the GWR bi-mode trains, which were only two years old.
DfT said that the RSSB report had independently concluded that the air quality of the services remained within legal workplace limits. It said interdisciplinary industrial research was already under way to understand the problems and identify solutions, while it had commissioned further studies to measure the air quality of a further eight types of trains used in the UK.
Railway Minister Chris Heaton-Harris said: “The safety of staff and passengers is our absolute priority. Although these findings are within limits, I do not think people should accept anything less than the highest levels of air quality.
“I have asked the industry to carry out further research immediately and examine all technical changes and opportunities to quickly improve air quality on trains and at stations.
He added: “If required, we will not hesitate to strengthen legislation to ensure that the highest standards of air quality are met and maintained.”
A spokesman for the industry body Rail Delivery Group said: “Railways are one of the greenest modes of transport … We welcome the government’s efforts to improve air quality on board trains, but government investments are also needed to electrify more of the railways and eliminate more polluting trains overall. ”
GWR said it was working with manufacturers to help develop potential solutions. A spokesman said: “In the long run, therefore, the government’s ambition to electrify the network and reduce the number of diesel-powered trains is so important.”
A spokesman for Avanti West Coast said most of its fleet was fully electric and it would replace the diesel Voyager trains with electric and bi-mode trains in the coming years.