Diesel-only trains should be phased out by 2040, says rail minister

Rail minister Jo Johnson will today announce ambitions to end the use of diesel-only trains by 2040.

Transport minister Johnson will say: “I would like to see us take all diesel-only trains off the track by 2040, if that seems like an ambitious goal, it should be and I make no apology for that.”

He will also say that he wants hydrogen train trials in the UK “as soon as possible” as a cleaner alternative to diesel rolling stock.

Tests have already been carried out by Alstom on the company’s hydrogen-powered Coradia iLint trains, and Vivarail is progressing with finding funding for its battery-powered D-Train.

An estimated 29% of Britain’s current fleet is run solely on diesel, a figure that according to Johnson must be improved on to reduce Britain’s emissions.

Gary Cooper, director of Planning, Engineering and Operations at the Rail Delivery Group, stated: “Rail is already a green mode of transport, helping to cut up to 7.7 million tonnes of carbon emissions per year and most customers already travel on zero-emission electric trains. 

“But we know we can go further. De-carbonising the railway will require the adoption of new technologies like hydrogen and battery powered trains, both of which the industry is looking at carefully and the electrification of more lines.

“The industry will work closely with government to explore what needs to be done to realise its vision.”

Mark Phillips, Chief Executive of the Rail Safety and Standards Board said:

“We welcome the Minister’s ambition to reduce carbon emissions from the railways. RSSB is leading the way through our research and innovation programmes, and by facilitating the Sustainable Rail Programme.

In 2015, we co-funded a £7 million pilot of a battery-powered train with industry partners, and we are working with Alstom to pilot a hydrogen powered train in late 2019 or early 2020.

We look forward to continuing to work with the Government to realise the vision of a cleaner, more efficient and more sustainable railway.”

The move comes less than a year after the government scrapped several major rail electrification plans which had previously been expected to cut the cost of trains, increase reliability and reduce carbon emissions.

Last July, the DfT confirmed that the electrification of the Cardiff-to-Swansea section of the Great Western network, the short Oxenholme-to-Windermere line in the Lake District and the Midland mainline, and would no longer go ahead.

Transport secretary Chris Grayling added that the move was justified with the advancement of bi-mode trains, which in theory removes the need to electrify “every line to achieve the same significant improvements to journeys.”

Top image: Lewis Whyld PA Archive

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Pete   12/02/2018 at 12:27

More counterintuitive thinking by the DfT – pledging to remove all diesel trains within 22 years while simultaneously procuring vast new diesel fleets that are likely to have significantly longer design service lives. Surely it would make more sense to say that the current generation of diesel rolling stock will be the last, rather than implying that in 2040 vast numbers of locomotives and carriages in perfectly good working order will simply be thrown on the scrapheap.

PP   12/02/2018 at 13:34

I think we need a long-term cascade plan, with particular reference to the Sudbury branch. I'm sure we have the expertise here. In fact, I guarantee it.

Jimbo   12/02/2018 at 13:47

This is nothing more than political posturing. No sign of an actual plan or strategy, just get some cheap political points by making an announcement, in the hope that something might happen in the future. Of course they could actually put together a proper plan, but that is just too much work for lazy politicians.

Jimbo   12/02/2018 at 15:30

@Pete - note the careful wording here "Diesel-only trains", so that excludes Bi-modes. Therefore, the only new fleets that would be affected are the CAF DMU's for Northern and West Midlands Trains Of course, this means that it is okay to have diesel trains as long as they are also electric capable. I am not clear why 2-car DMU's running a few services a day on a branchline are worse for the environment than a 9-car bi-modes running at high-speed on diesel all day long on the MML. Bi-modes must have some sort of environment-friendly diesel that doesn't count.

Andrew Gwilt   12/02/2018 at 18:39

Why not have Bi-Diesel engines fitted onto some diesel multiple units including Class 168, Class 170, Class 171 & Class 172 Turbostars, Class 185 Desiro, Class 180 Adelante and other DMU trains that were built between 1990’s-2000’s and 2000’s-2010’s. Most diesel multiple units are very efficient and reliable.

John Webster   12/02/2018 at 20:34

Andrew - What do you mean regarding Bi-Diesel, do you mean Bio Diesel?

Andrew Gwilt   13/02/2018 at 05:20

Yes I do mean Bio-Diesel John.

Ampox   13/02/2018 at 13:01

Why are hydrogen-powered and battery-powered trains recommended when both require less efficient use of electricity than direct electrification? Maybe for niche applications? Can hydrogen-powered trains regenerate energy on braking?

Nonsuchmike   13/02/2018 at 13:52

That is J. Johnson's opinion. All new purely diesel orders should be rescinded; all diesel only routes should be phased out with the most popular ones changing in 2021, those which are cross-country or secondary routes by 2023 and all others at least changed to bi-motive power stock by 2025. Freight should be put on an equal footing with passenger traffic at least. By doing this the "tough" way, we will save millions of pounds in revenue costs each year as well as saving millions of tons of CO2 pollution each & every year. So get a move on, JJ; electrify as many routes as possible right now. Don't delay. Save the british public money & pollution by acting now & not just spouting words which have no practical meaning.

Stewroth   13/02/2018 at 14:03

To a layman, it would not seem beyond human ingenuity to introduce electric pick-up cars into the existing HST fleet, to drive the existing traction motors. We had this in the 1980ies on the ECML! It would help to keep these Museum pieces going for even more years, and avoid the cost of entirely new trains.

JPG   13/02/2018 at 14:06

So we could start on the Virgin Voyagers West Coast services which all run under the wires with Diesel engines. The perfect opportunity for Jo Johnson .(sorry doing something is not in vogue at the moment )

Druim Fada   13/02/2018 at 15:00

I can just visualise the 9-car train of the future; 5 cars for hydrogen and 4 for passengers.

Keith   13/02/2018 at 15:51

Quite a lot of the UK network will never be electrified so there will always be a need for self-powered trains. The long term survival of those routes depends on having trains that can do the job. Bi-modal is all very well, but look at the performance of bi-modal versus present-day diesel trains. The power of the new Stadler FLIRT bi-modal trains built for Italy, and similar to those on order for Greater Anglia, is stated to be 2,600 kW continuous rating, with a maximum speed of 160 kph when running as an EMU. However, it’s only 700 kW with a maximum speed of 140 km/h when powered by the two Stage IIIB compliant Deutz TCD 16.0 V8 diesel engines. Each car of Greater Anglia’s current diesel fleet of class 170 Turbostars is powered by a 315 kW diesel engine, and run in two or three car sets. Therefore a three car Turbostar is 945 kW, considerably more than the 700 kW available on a FLIRT under diesel power. Whilst the top speed might not be an issue, I think the loss of about 25% of the available diesel power will be on some of the short but steep banks on the Ipswich to Lowestoft line.

Melvyn   15/02/2018 at 23:08

Bit rich given way his boss Chris Grayling has cancelled electrification plans for most of MML and GWR leaving trains to carry weight of Diesel engines and fuel on sometimes relatively short unelectrfied lines with Class example being conversion of class 319s ! Sir Peter Hendy has already proposed that electrification should be treated like track renewal with an annual budget for a rolling programme ,

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