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My quest for the holy grail of zero-carbon journalism knows no bounds. It even extended to using the services of Northern Rail twice in three days last week.


Northern Rail, for those in sunnier climes, specialises in the kind of trains that make you feel like a bullock being transported to the slaughterhouse. They consist of two steel boxes shackled together, with serried benches bolted to the floor. But they’re so unpopular you can almost always get a seat.


Savouring the joys of the line from Salford Crescent to Wigan, I was intrigued to overhear a couple of elderly local men discussing climate change. Their conclusions were that China will belch out more greenhouse gases in ten minutes than we can save in a lifetime; and we’ll all be gone before it starts to affect us anyway.


Sir Rod Eddington, you’ll be pleased to hear, takes a more considered view. In fact his transport study, which will influence next year’s spending review, goes out of its way to make the connections between investment in transport, economic growth and environmental sustainability.


The conclusion that all transport - including air travel - should pay its environmental costs is one of vital importance to policymaking. If only every Treasury report was as enlightened.


Don’t expect dancing in the streets, though: they’ll still be jam-packed with frustrated motorists demanding that others make way. In a car we can all justify our selfishness. Public transport, on the other hand, forces us to act communally: on a bus or a train it’s the selfish and inconsiderate person who gets the killer stares.


Eddington argues we can gain the greatest benefits by concentrating transport investment on urban areas, and routes between cities and internationally, to ease congestion. It’s best for business, but works for leisure too - it was the rail network that made the Football League possible.


The really good news is that this brings together some key policy objectives: improving public transport, investing in economic activity, creating intelligent city-regional governance, and limiting greenhouse gas emissions.


What’s more, it could even give users of Northern Rail something to smile about.


Julian Dobson, editorial director, New Start Online magazine


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