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Do Trains Meet Air Quality Standards?

2 min

With the announcement that air quality on some trains is poorer than desired, Quadrant Transport looks at what needs to be done to improve the standards.

Research conducted by the independent Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB) has found that air quality levels on some trains while operating under diesel power, is poorer than desired.

The research, funded by the Department for Transport, concluded that the quality of air on services remains within legal workplace limits, but could be significantly improved.

However, Rail Minister Chris Heaton-Harris has launched a review to ensure air quality standards and regulations are fit for purpose, following concerning findings that air quality on some diesel trains is ‘at the limit’.

The review could implement strengthening existing railway standards on air quality

The full RSSB report shows measurements of pollutants, including nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter, throughout the duration of train journeys. It demonstrates that on-train concentrations of nitrogen dioxide can peak at levels ranging from 1 to 13 times higher than identified next to major central London roads.

Rail Minister Chris Heaton-Harris told Quadrant Transport: “The safety of staff and passengers is our absolute priority. While these findings are within limits, I do not believe people should have to accept anything less than the highest levels of air quality.”

I have launched a comprehensive review of the current standards and guidance related to air quality on the rail network. If required, we will not hesitate to strengthen legislation to ensure the highest standards of air quality are met and maintained.

While the findings are verified as within legal limits, the government has certified that passengers and staff can be reassured that the railways should always meet the very highest standards.

Further research by RSSB has also been commissioned by DfT

More extensive research will help better understand the scale of the air quality issue onboard trains and to identify potential causes and solutions. This work will include measuring air quality levels inside a further 8 train classes in service across the country’s rail network.

Speaking about the research, RSSB’s Director of Sustainable Development, George Davies, told Quadrant Transport: “Collectively the rail industry and government have been working with us through the Air Quality Strategic Framework to identify the right monitoring, modelling and mitigation.”

Our important research is helping us understand the issue in much greater depth enabling the rail industry, government and regulator to take the necessary steps. We look forward to continuing this work and ensuring the rail network plays its part in addressing poor air quality.

Further investigations have already begun to ensure better quality air standards and forms part of broader work by the government to ensure passengers and staff can have confidence in air quality on their services. This includes trialling the use of upgraded air filtration devices on passenger services.