|Drax protestors Protesters on a train carrying coal to the Drax power station in North Yorkshire after they stopped it just south of Drax. Photograph: John Giles/PA Wire Link to this video|
Climate change campaigners have hijacked a train carrying coal to Britain’s biggest power station, swarming on to the roof of its 20 huge trucks.
The 40 protesters stopped the regular delivery service to Drax in Yorkshire disguised as railway workers in yellow warning jackets and waving red flags, having read up on standard railway safety rules.
The ambush took place at an iron girder bridge over the river Aire between the villages of Gowdall and Hirst Courteney at 8am BST. One group then used the bridge girders and climbing equipment to scale the 12ft high trucks.
They hoisted a huge banner reading “Leave it in the ground” – referring to the coal destined for the power station’s furnaces. The protesters carried food, water and even a portable lavatory with the intention of being able to remain on board for several days.
Link to this audio
Climate change protest: ‘They’ve started shovelling coal onto the tracks’
Martin Wainwright speaks to activists stopping trains to Drax power station
As the driver of the EWS train radioed for advice, a second group of protesters used shovels which they had also brought with them to start emptying the gravel-like power station coal on to the track. Police arrived half-an-hour later and sealed off the area, after calls from motorists stuck at a level crossing which was closed as a safety precaution.
“We are ready to stay here for as long as Gordon Brown and the government keep burning polluting fuel in these power stations,” said one of the protesters before clipping climbing ropes to the train’s wheels and the bridge girders. Although flimsy, the web would risk damage to the train or bridge if any attempt was made to drive off.
The raiders initially lay concealed on the edge of track as two earlier trains took supplies into Drax, whose eight vast cooling towers are guarded by coils of barbed wire. The power station was the scene of a spectacular but unsuccessful siege two years ago by Climate Camp, the group behind today’s action.
The rooftop group included one woman protester dressed as a canary – the traditional warning of dangerous pollution down a coal mine. She said: “The government and the country needs a warning,” before fixing on an orange cardboard beak to go with her bright yellow feather coat.
The protesters were still shovelling off coal late on Friday afternoon, as a large force of police began planning how to remove them. Police boats have been brought in case anyone falls in the river.
Supt Phil Trendall of British Transport Police said: “We have been in dialogue with the protesters today who have caused obstruction to the railway and diverted significant police resources. The height and location of the protesters means that safety is a key priority for officers in taking action to return the railway to normal services as soon as possible. People have the right to protest but they do not have the right to commit criminal offences by obstructing the railway.” The campaigners have emphasised non-violence throughout the action and say they would only resist eviction passively.
The Drax line is likely to be closed until the protesters leave, and safety checks including the removal of the shovelled coal are expected to disrupt supplies to the power station for several days afterwards.
Drax responded to the hijacking by defending their record, setting out details of emission cuts of an estimated 3m tonnes a year at a cost of £180m. The plant, which supplies 7% of Britain’s electricity, is improving burning efficiency, says the company, and increasingly using renewable biofuels.
Melanie Wedgbury, head of external affairs at the plant, said: “We are the largest power station but also the cleanest and most efficient. It’s only because we are the biggest that we produce the most CO2. For every unit of electricity we generate, we generate less CO2 than any other of the coal-fired stations.”
The campaigners promised more protests later this summer, when another power station will face an attempt to close it down, similar to the Drax Climate Camp in 2006. One of the coal-shovellers on top of a freight wagon said: “Last year was Heathrow, this year it’ll be a coal-fired power station because those are the two big things, aviation fuel and burning coal.”
Action on behalf of justice is a constitutive dimension of the preaching of the gospel.
Justice in the World – 1971 Synod of Bishops