The West Somerset Railway Heritage Trust WSRHT

Railways and Climate Change

Railways were there at the start of the process that set us on the path to climate crisis

Story of Railways and Climate Change

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The Industrial Revolution permanently changed  Britain’s natural environment. 

Coal and railways have always been closely connected. 

The earliest steam-powered engines were designed to make the mining of coal more efficient, a process that inspired the invention of the first locomotives.  Once the railways had become established, they became the backbone of the Industrial Revolution, moving coal throughout the UK in order to fuel the factories and mills as well as heating people’s homes.  This mass-burning of fossil fuels, of course, started us on the dangerous journey towards climate change. 

The railways themselves carved their way through the British countryside, changing the landscape and disturbing or destroying habitats that had been in place for centuries. 

Part of the Solution

Today, however, railways are seen as part of the solution to sustainable transport, because they require less energy to move heavy goods or large numbers of people than with a road-based system.

Then there’s HS2, which will release capacity for freight and passenger trains on the classic routes, while also creating new wildlife habitats, supporting native woodlands and helping to integrate the new line into its surrounding landscape and environment.

The Railway as a ‘Green Corridor’

Railway construction inevitably disturbed the existing natural landscape, slicing its way through the countryside in order to create bridges and tunnels, however, the lack of public access to the land along railway lines meant that it became a haven for wildlife to thrive.

Railway corridors are still home to a variety of wildlife. Today, trackside workers are also trained to recognise species of wildlife which might be present along the line, and Network Rail employs ecologists to survey areas whose wildlife could be affected by works.

Moving forward, the HS2 project is setting new standards for how Britain and Europe builds the next generation of major infrastructure projects, aiming to create one of the largest railway green corridors yet by:

  • Planting 7 million new trees and shrubs, including over 40 different native species
  • Developing over 33 square kilometres of new and existing wildlife habitats
  • Creating taylor-made homes for wildlife, from bat houses to ponds.
  • Re-using around 90% of the material excavated during construction to develop new landscaping.
  • Supporting communities by developing public parks, open spaces and nature reserves.