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Air pollution levels on diesel trains worse than Central London roads, research finds

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Findings showing that air pollution in diesel trains can be worse than major roads has led the Department for Transport (DfT) to conduct a review to ensure air quality standards are fit for purpose.

Research funded by the DfT and conducted by the independent Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB) found that on-train concentrations of nitrogen dioxide can reach up to 13 times higher than those next to major central London roads, with peaks occurring most frequently when trains are in tunnels or idling in stations.

While it also concluded that the air quality remains within legal workplace limits, work is under way to understand the issue and identify short-term and long-term solutions, the DfT said.

After publishing its findings, the RSSB has been commissioned to carry out a review of the regulations and standards that currently control air pollution in the rail sector. This work will include measuring air quality levels inside a further eight train classes in service across the country’s rail network.

Rail minister Chris Heaton-Harris said: “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 asked the industry to immediately conduct further research and explore all engineering modifications and options to rapidly improve air quality on trains and in stations.

“I have also 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.”

This new review forms part of broader work by the Government to ensure passengers and staff can have confidence in air quality on their services, including trialling the use of upgraded air filtration devices on passenger services.

The use of electric trains would help to improve air quality as they do not require the diesel engines that are the source of much of the pollution.

But in July, MPs on the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) expressed disappointment at the slow progress of rail electrification especially with regards to the impact this will have on the UK’s plans to reach net zero carbon by 2050.

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