UK: The rail industry needs the government to provide a clear strategy for decarbonising operations including the launch of a rolling programme of electrification, the House of Commons Transport Committee says in its sixth Trains Fit For The Future? report.

The government should as a matter of priority publish a long-term strategy setting out its vision for electrification and the use of battery or hydrogen power, the committee said, and this should be underpinned by appropriate costing and a credible delivery plan.

The committee said electrification is the only immediate decarbonisation option for most of the network, and if the government is to meet the binding target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050 then it must launch a 30-year rolling programme of electrification now rather than wait for the next control period in 2024.

It called on the Department for Transport to publish the list of ‘no regret’ electrification schemes identified by Network Rail, and to confirm which will come first and when.

The committee said Network Rail and the industry should be subject to greater transparency and controls over cost to ensure a rolling programme delivers value for money.

HydroFLEX on mainline

It called on DfT to make the case for hydrogen, and to ensure that rail is included in the forthcoming national hydrogen strategy. DfT should also report on how it intends to support the growth of a domestic battery industry, the committee added.

‘It will be some time before battery and hydrogen-powered trains are ready to depart the station, leaving electrification as the main option’, said Transport Committee Chair Huw Merriman. ‘Electrification has a patchy record of delivery. It’s time to invest in a rolling programme which will speed up delivery, drive down costs and hold to account those who do not deliver to time or budget.’

Responding to the publication of the report, David Clarke, Technical Director of the Railway Industry Association, said ‘we need to get on with decarbonising our rail network today if we are to meet the government’s target of net zero by 2050. That means starting a rolling programme of affordable electrification that avoids the boom and bust profiles of the past, thereby allowing the rail industry to continue to retain and develop expertise and capabilities so that it can deliver efficiently and affordably.

‘We also need to see fleet orders of battery and hydrogen trains, which the industry is now developed enough to deliver, so that we can decarbonise branch lines around the country, placing the UK at the forefront of the global green industrial revolution.’

RIA has launched a RailDecarb21 campaign, calling on the government to show global leadership ahead of the COP26 Climate Change Conference in Glasgow.

‘Our rail network is already a low carbon form of transport, contributing only 1·4% to the UK’s domestic transport emissions and just 0·5% of the UK’s total carbon emissions’, said RIA Chief Executive Darren Caplan. ‘Yet we have clear targets from government to meet — to remove all diesel-only trains from the network by 2040 and to help the UK secure its commitment to achieve net zero by 2050.

‘To do this, we need to begin now. With rail investment taking several years, and train fleets having an average life of 30 years, the choices we make this year will impact whether we reach our targets in the coming decades. Every tonne of carbon saved today equates to 29 tonnes of carbon saved by 2050.’