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Losing altitude: The economics of air transport in Great Britain

By Alex Chapman - New Economics Foundation, July 17, 2023

The environmental downsides of growth in flight numbers are significant. The sector has no short-term technological solution to its greenhouse gas emissions; over the medium to long term, much uncertainty remains as to the pace of emissions reduction achievable. All scenarios published by stakeholders such as the Climate Change Committee, the Department for Transport (DfT), and air transport sector bodies, suggest that future air traffic growth would necessitate the use of costly, and unproven, carbon capture technologies.

Despite these risks, the government continues to provide conditional support to air capacity growth on the (often tacit) basis that the economic upsides outweigh the negative impacts and future risks. But, the economic assumptions that underpin this position favouring growth are dated and have not been reviewed for some years. Given the urgent and sizeable nature of the climate risk, it is imperative that the evidence, and relative balance, of the economic and environmental impacts of air transport growth are kept up to date and under constant review.

This report shows that since the government’s last comprehensive review of the economic impacts of air transport in 2012, trends in the British air transport sector have changed dramatically. Contrary to expectations, growth in business passenger numbers has effectively ceased and new passengers now derive exclusively from the leisure market. In particular, passenger growth has been driven by wealthy British residents rather than foreign tourists or those on lower incomes. Early evidence suggests the pandemic has accelerated this trend. This report reviews the current evidence on the impact of air transport growth across four core economic domains: welfare, jobs and wages, tourism, and wider facets of economic growth, business productivity, and trade.

Download a copy of this publication here (PDF).

Aviation Democracy: The case for public ownership of the aviation sector to protect jobs and protect the planet

By Tahir Latif, et. al. - Public and Commercial Services Union, July 2023

PCS has always argued that protecting the long term job security of our members in aviation means recognising the impact of flying on the environment, and vice versa.

Technical fixes – new fuels, better engines, more efficient aircraft – will help but not solve the challenge of climate change. To meet the UK’s climate targets will involve managing down.

As a trade union we want to ensure a reduction in flying does not lead to an accompanying loss of jobs but to a planned transition of workers to the jobs required in a greener aviation industry that is part of a broader integrated transport system, owned by and run for the public, and that meets its climate commitments.

Download a copy of this publication here (PDF).

Amazon Strikes as a Climate Justice issue; Trade Union briefing

Government's poor response on decarbonisation

By staff - ASLEF, June 20, 2023

In March, Parliament's Transport Select Committee produced a report of their recent inquiry Fuelling the Future, which was looking at ways to decarbonise transport.

The committee took evidence from stakeholders across the industry, including ASLEF (click here to read our submission), asking about the viability of future fuels from electrification to batteries and hydrogen.

The report found that the only realistic way to decarbonise the railway is to electrify as much as possible of the network. While there is the potential for hydrogen and batteries to fill gaps, electrification remains the only way to power heavy freight and high-speed passenger services. 

This is not the first report that has come to the conclusion that rail electrification is essential for decarbonising the railway.

ASLEF has repeatedly called for the full electrification of the railway, through a rolling programme which would allow supply chains and project teams to be continually employed and therefore save money and retain institutional knowledge.

After publishing the final report of the inquiry the committee received a response from the UK government. Unfortunately the government did not commit to moving forward with some of the most important recommendations.

There was, for example, no full commitment to rail electrification, let alone a plan to do this. In addition the government stated that it would be running diesel trains on the new 'East-West Rail' line between Oxford and Cambridge. This is a new line which should obviously have been electrified from the beginning.

The Conservative MP who chairs the committee, Iain Stewart, commented:

“My colleagues also urged government to stay committed to electrifying railway lines, or introducing alternative low-carbon motive power where full electrification is not viable, so that we can look forward to the day that vast swathes of the country are free of diesel-guzzling trains. We want to see a long-term strategy with costings, milestones and a credible delivery plan. The Government’s response indicates there is still some way to go before they will be ready to put pen to paper on a detailed plan."

This indictment of the government's inaction from a member of their own party is in line with what ASLEF has been saying for many years. This is a government without a plan, without a strategy, and without the ability to deliver.

Northeast Ohio Protestors Demand Justice for East Palestine

By x409232 - Industrial Worker, June 20, 2023

At about one o’clock on Saturday, March 11, at least 40 local residents and activists gathered in Lisbon, Ohio to demand justice for East Palestine. They focused their protest on rail giant Norfolk Southern and its role in the derailing of the train on Feb. 3, 2023.

The seat of Columbiana County, Lisbon is less than 20 miles from the now infamous East Palestine. The afternoon air was cold but not biting – typical March weather here in the Mahoning Valley. But the atmosphere was tense. 

People had joined together to show their anger at Norfolk Southern and determination to make them pay for damages. They held signs and distributed info about community actions to get more people involved. They also gave testimony for the news cameras.

I made my way from my home in Salem, just a 10 minute drive down State Route 45. The derailed train had first passed through our town, already on fire, on its way to its eventual wreckage site. It easily could have been my own family evacuating in February–a thought that has kept me up many nights since.

I parked and shuffled from my spot near Fox’s Pizza Den into the town square. There, protesters had already gathered, holding signs for passing traffic. “Make Norfolk Pay,” read one. “You break it, you buy it,” read another.

Railroad Workers United didn’t attend for fear of company retaliation, but sent a solidarity statement read by a DSA member. “Put power back in the hands of the workers!” cried one speaker. “Workers make the world run.”

Now often called Ohio’s Chernobyl, East Palestine previously led a quiet existence. But the town of 4,800 was thrown into disarray, and then despair, by February 3’s 150-railcar “mega-train” derailment. This industrial catastrophe doused the surrounding area with extremely hazardous chemicals. 20 railcars contained deadly compounds, including one million pounds of vinyl chloride.

Residents around the town testified (and still do) of headaches, nose bleeds, dizzy spells, nausea, rashes, difficulty breathing, sore throats, and more. Norfolk Southern and the government specified a one mile hazard zone, but people 30 to 50 miles out–or more–are being affected. According to testimonies at the solidarity action in Lisbon, Norfolk Southern’s “clinic” staff and state officials have told sick residents that these symptoms are “all in their heads.” (Yet CDC inspectors have also fallen sick with the same symptoms. So much for that!)

The Impact of Commute Times on the Fatigue and Safety of Locomotive Engineers and Conductors

By Naomi J. Dunn and Susan Soccolich - US Department of Transportation, Fereal Railroad Administration, June 2023

The survey showed that not only did locomotive engineers and conductors frequently experience fatigue, but it also indicated fatigue affected their operation of a locomotive train. Self-identified highly fatigued locomotive engineers and conductors were:

  • Twice as likely to experience any type of fatigue-related safety event while operating a locomotive compared to those who were not highly fatigued
  • Four times more likely to have missed a required stop compared to conductors not feeling highly fatigued
  • 3.4 times more likely to have had a near miss while operating a locomotive than locomotive engineers who reported not feeling highly fatigued

Just under 40 percent of participating locomotive engineers and conductors fit the classification of being highly fatigued; over 60 percent of locomotive engineers and conductors were classified as not being highly fatigued.

Fatigue also increased the odds of locomotive engineers and conductors being involved in fatigue-related driving events during their commute to and from work. The risk was higher for those who reported having long commute times (i.e., over one hour). The major contributors to fatigue were related to scheduling, or lack thereof in the case of irregular work. Variability in start times and frequent switching from day to night work were associated with increased risk of fatigue for locomotive engineers and conductors. Shiftwork, long-duration tasks, and disturbances in the sleep-wake cycle are well-documented contributors to fatigue and key risk factors identified in this survey for safety incidents both in the workplace and on the roads.

Download a copy of this publication here (PDF).

Aviation Workers Demand Industry to Reject Dangerous Growth

By Finlay Asher - Safe Landing, May 4, 2023

Finlay Asher of Safe Landing gave this talk on 4th May 2023 as part of the "Aero Lectures" series organised by the HAW University in Hamburg in cooperation with DGLR, Royal Aeronautical Society (RAeS), ZAL and VDI. He covered the need for aviation decarbonisation, the issues with various technological and policy options, what Safe Landing's positive view of the future for air travel is, and how we think we can achieve it (worker-led movements and Aviation Workers' Assemblies.)

ASLEF: Bang Goes the Government’s Green Agenda!

By Keith Richmond - Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen, May 10, 2023

ASLEF, the train drivers’ union, has slammed the government’s decision to approve the use of longer lorries on Britain’s roads.

Mick Whelan, ASLEF’s general secretary, said: ‘There goes this government’s green agenda! We need to move more goods – as well as more people – off Britain’s roads and onto electrified rail if we are to have any hope of hitting our CO2 targets.

‘To encourage the use of longer, heavier, lorries will only mean more emissions, more deadly particles in the air that we breathe, and more danger – with the six extra feet, deadly tail swing, and a bigger area at the rear end when the truck is turning – for pedestrians, cyclists, and people in cars. It will mean more accidents, more injuries, and more deaths on our roads.

‘The government – which always bends its knee to the road lobby – claims it will mean more goods can be transported by fewer vehicles. In fact it will mean the same number of heavy goods vehicles on our roads – just longer, heavier, and more dangerous HGVs.’

Mick added: ‘This is, I’m afraid, a regressive, rather than progressive, measure. A retrograde step. Rather than permitting longer, and more dangerous, lorries, the government should be encouraging more freight to move to rail which we all know is a more efficient, safer, cleaner, and more environmentally friendly alternative.

‘Each freight train removes 129 lorries from our roads. We need more freight hubs right across the country so we let the train take the strain for the long haul, and then switch the goods to shorter, and more modern, electric vehicles for the last few miles. That’s the sort of forward-thinking, integrated, green transport system we need for the 21st century.’

RMT slams government plans for longer lorries

By staff - National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers, May 10, 2023

LOGISTICS UNION RMT slammed the government over plans to permit longer lorries to travel on UK roads despite the climate emergency and the managed decline of rail. There have also been widespread warnings that the move will increase the number of fatal road accidents.

Under government plans the lorries will be a maximum of 2.05 metres longer than the current standard sized trailer meaning lorries over 18.5 metres in length. 

The longer lorries have been trialled since 2011 and there are about 3,000 already on the roads, but from May 31 any business in England, Scotland or Wales will be able to use them.

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said that it was completely baffling that the government had made the announcement on longer lorries despite the fact that the climate emergency was accelerating and the increasingly obvious managed decline of the rail including the freight sector. 

“Rail freight is the most sustainable and environmentally friendly way to move freight but instead over recent years what we are seeing on our railways is cutting investment, slashing services and staff numbers, scrapping and downgrading vital infrastructure projects and rewarding failed private train operators with lucrative contract extensions. 

“If this government was serious about tackling the climate emergency, they would recognise the critical importance of rail freight to reducing carbon emissions and commit to a historic mass investment in this sector to ensure the UK meets its legally binding climate targets,” he said.

Finlay Asher from Unite and Safe Landing at The Big One Trade Union hub

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