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  • Will diesel retrofits clean up pollution paradox?

    The recent support by MEPs for a proposal to encourage the retrofitting of a range of diesel engines with clean-up technology could help solve a paradox in which the EU is funding a rise in air pollution. T&E’s Hungarian member, the Clean Air Action Group, says EU efforts to support public transport in Budapest have ended up bringing back diesel fumes that the residents thought belonged in the past.

    The proposed Non-Road Mobile Machinery (NRMM) regulation is aimed at tightening emission standards for diesel trains, inland boats and certain stationary building machinery. One part of the legislation proposes that all existing off-road diesel engines in urban areas that fail to comply with EU air quality standards must have clean-up technology. MEPs supported this part, but they face opposition from member states, and negotiations will determine whether it is included in the final NRMM legislation.

    If that part of the regulation becomes law, it could resolve a paradox in Budapest under which the EU is funding a project aimed at getting more people to use river transport but which in fact is adding to air quality problems.

    Judit Szegö of the Clean Air Action Group said: ‘The EU funded the project to increase river boat traffic “with the aim of improving public transport services”. But while EU money was used for renewing landing stages and some boat repairs, nothing was done about upgrading the engines, some of which are more than 45 years old. The result has been a return to the awful smell of diesel pollution that Budapest’s residents thought they had got rid of over the past 25 years.

    ‘The problem is made worse by the fact that the city of Budapest’s transport authority now says the boat project “did not achieve its aim to become an integral part of public transport for commuters”. This is hardly a surprise, given that transfers between boats and other public transport are very cumbersome. Furthermore, the boats are massively loss-making while the rest of the city’s public transport is suffering from a lack of funding. The obvious solution is to stop funding the boats, but that’s not an option because then the EU money would have to be paid back. It’s crazy, but if the engines of the boats were cleaner, at least we could cut down on the pollution.’

    According to the World Health Organisation, diesel exhaust is carcinogenic, and diesel engines are a major source of urban air pollution near some railway stations and construction sites. Air pollution causes 100 million sick days and more than 400,000 premature deaths in Europe every year.