Preparing the industry to deliver trains for the future

Source: RTM June/July

The move to decarbonise the rail network involves shifting to cleaner modes of traction by 2050. David Clarke, technical director at the Railway Industry Association (RIA), examines how to create a green and efficient future.

The need to decarbonise our economy has rightfully become a more high-profile topic in recent years, and indeed weeks, given the government’s announcement on 12 June that they intend to commit to net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

This renewed focus is just as true in transport, which continues to be the largest-emitting sector in the UK, accounting for 27% of total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in 2016.

Decarbonising our rail network will involve shifting to cleaner modes of traction by 2050, including more electrification, battery and hydrogen technologies.

Crucially, electrification has an important role for intensively used railway lines. It is better for the environment, quieter, costs less in the long term and can improve journey times and reduce passenger delays compared to diesels.

Around 42% of the rail network is electrified, but there is need for a rolling programme of electrification that continually extends the frontier of electrified railways.

In the RIA’s recently published Electrification Cost Challenge report, we found that this rolling programme could be delivered cost-effectively and that future schemes can be delivered at up to 50% less than some past problem projects.


Another key consideration as we look at how we decarbonise is the volatility of the rolling stock market. 

Over 7,200 new build vehicles are currently on order in the UK, representing half of the country’s national fleet.

However, while many of these new build vehicles will replace older vehicles which will subsequently be scrapped, others will displace quality rolling stock with significant remaining life.

This unprecedented increase in rolling stock has simultaneously been driven by government policy on one hand, and by favourable macroeconomic factors, such as low interest rates, on the other.

It has also adversely impacted the rolling stock refurbishment market, which is set to take a severe dip after 2019 with consequent negative implications for the refurbishment supply chain.

What is clear is that we need a functioning rolling stock market which balances the use of new and existing trains on the network.

A long-term and stable pipeline of rolling stock will give the supply chain the confidence both to continue to invest in new trains, and also in maintaining and improving trains currently in service.

Importantly, this will not only ensure we are able to decarbonise, but also optimally utilise both the current and future train fleet.

Together, with a shift to cleaner modes of traction, we can deliver a green and efficient rail network for the future.



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