Hour on London Underground as bad as a day in traffic — pollution study

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A general view of a busy westbound platform at Earls Court tube station in London. (Reuters)
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Commuters are seen outside a closed Canary Wharf tube station following an incident at the station in London. (Reuters)
Updated 10 January 2019
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Hour on London Underground as bad as a day in traffic — pollution study

  • In some Tube stations the air can be up to 50 times dirtier than on the street
  • Globally air pollution kills about 7 million people every year

LONDON: Pollution levels on London’s underground rail system are so high that an hour’s travel is the same as spending a whole day in traffic, new research has found.
In some Tube stations the air can be up to 50 times dirtier than on the street, with pollution particularly bad on lines that run a long way under the city, found the study, commissioned by Transport for London (TfL).
“Mass concentrations of PM at the platforms on London Underground lines are typically much higher than in ambient air,” said the report, referring to the concentration of tiny poisonous particulate matter in the air.
Nearly 9,500 London residents die prematurely every year as a result of long-term exposure to air pollution, a 2015 study by researchers at King’s College London showed.
London’s subway is the world’s oldest and some of its 11 lines and 270 stations date back to 1863 — a likely cause of high pollution as “deep, poorly ventilated tunnels” make up part of the system, the report said.
Air drawn into the tunnel network becomes contaminated by the wear and tear of railway components, such as train wheels and brake blocks, it said.
At the deepest station, Hampstead, the concentration of PM 2.5 — the smallest particulates that do the most damage because they penetrate into the bloodstream — averaged 492 over a 10-day period in 2018.
That compares with an average of just three in rural Scotland, and 16 on a busy London road. World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines advise levels should not exceed a daily mean of 25.
Globally air pollution kills about 7 million people every year, according to the WHO. Long-term exposure can affect human respiratory and inflammatory systems and lead to heart disease and cancer.
The report, published on Wednesday, said there was not enough information to assess the effects of exposure to underground pollution on commuters but health risks could not be ruled out. “Given that there is strong evidence that both long and short term exposure to particle pollutants in ambient air are harmful to health, it is likely that there is some health risk associated with exposure to underground PM,” it said.
However, the authors said they did not believe traveling posed a serious risk.
Peter McNaught, TfL’s director of asset operations, said the company was committed to maintaining the cleanest air possible.
“We closely monitor dust levels on the Tube and, through a wide range of measures, ensure that particle levels are well within Health & Safety Executive guidelines,” he said in a statement.
“We have already enhanced our sampling regime by including tests for additional metals and we will continue to investigate ways we can keep dust and particles to an absolute minimum.”


Tunnel through an Australian mountain? No problem, says Elon Musk

Updated 17 January 2019
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Tunnel through an Australian mountain? No problem, says Elon Musk

  • The entrepreneur behind electric carmaker Tesla has most recently turned his sights on tackling city traffic via low-cost tunnels
  • Musk in 2017 made a Twitter pitch to build what was the world’s biggest battery in an Australian state to solve its severe energy crisis

SYDNEY: Australia could become a test ground for another of Elon Musk’s massive infrastructure projects after the maverick billionaire tweeted a “bargain” price to build a tunnel through a mountain to solve Sydney’s traffic woes.
Musk in 2017 made a Twitter pitch — and followed through with the offer — to build what was the world’s biggest battery in an Australian state to solve its severe energy crisis.
The entrepreneur behind electric carmaker Tesla has most recently turned his sights on tackling city traffic via low-cost tunnels created by his Boring Company, and in December unveiled a sample project near Los Angeles.
So when an Australian politician tweeted at Musk on Wednesday about the costs of drilling through a mountain range north of Sydney, he responded quickly.
“I’m a lawmaker in Sydney, which is choking with traffic. How much to build a 50km tunnel through the Blue Mountains and open up the west of our State?,” asked New South Wales state MP Jeremy Buckingham.
“About $15M/km for a two way high speed transit, so probably around $750M plus maybe $50M/station,” Musk replied late Wednesday, with his response liked more than 22,000 times on Twitter.
He has more than 24 million followers on the social media platform.
Another billionaire, Mike Cannon-Brookes, who founded Australian software startup Atlassian, weighed in on the exchange, saying the estimated price tag “sounds like a bargain for Sydney.”
The population of the Sydney region has grown by around 25 percent since 2011 to reach 5.4 million, out of a national population of 25 million, and road congestion is a major concern.
There was no indication the exchange of tunnel tweets would lead to any quick action, but it could bring some needed positive publicity for Musk.
Musk has risen to prominence with a series of ambitious ventures, particularly Tesla, but has also drawn plenty of criticism for some volatile behavior.
He waged a public battle with a rescuer who helped save a group of boys trapped in a cave in Thailand last year, calling him a “pedo guy” after the Brit slammed his idea of building a mini-submarine to save the children as a public relations stunt.
Meanwhile, riders who have tested out Boring’s prototype tunnel — where cars are lowered by lifts then slotted into tracks and propelled along at high speeds — have complained of a bumpy journey.