Rail Strikes and the Climate

Zanny Bexley
September 18, 2022

This summer saw a wave of rail strikes throughout the UK. As unions have been disputing with both the government and train companies over issues such as pay and job losses, wider flaws with the UK’s railway system have been highlighted. A good rail system is crucial to meeting Britain's emissions targets yet the nation's railways, and the workers who operate them, have been neglected for decades.

In the UK transport is the largest emitting sector of greenhouse gasses, accounting for 27% in 2019. Of these emissions 91% came from road transport vehicles. This information, coupled with growing concerns around air pollution, makes it clear that taking cars off the road and replacing them with a good public transport system is imperative. Britain was a pioneer of the railways but now houses a system which is unfit for modern service. Neglect of the railways, largely due to privatization, has led to an inefficient and expensive service. Given these circumstances it’s easy to see why many opt for cars over trains to make their journeys. As Leo Murray, the director of innovation at the climate change charity Possible, has said “what you have to do is change the conditions in which the choices are being made so they are more favorable to more responsible choices.” 

National Rail has outlined some climate targets and plans. In line with the UK’s wider goals they have a net zero emissions target for 2050 (and 2045 in Scotland). However, even if the rail system in Britain is completely green it is useless if people still choose cars over it, a truth which is often overlooked. To have an effectively functioning system it has to be attractive for people to both use it and work for it. 

Any organization is only as good as its workers and largely workers are only as good as they are happy. As the strike action of this summer has made evident, rail workers are not happy. At Teach the Future we believe that climate justice is intrinsically linked with wider social justice and strong workers rights are essential to the creation of a green economy. Similarly as a student-led organization we feel it is vital for students to be able to graduate into a world of work which is both sustainable and fair to workers. Therefore it is only logical that those who care about stopping climate change stand in solidarity with striking rail workers. After all it is both workers and the planet who have suffered from the for-profit system which dominates many sectors, including Britain’s railways.