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RSSB: Railways crucial in UK becoming net zero-carbon by 2050

The Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB) has said that Britain’s railways have a crucial role to play in helping the UK economy decarbonise by 2050.

The announcement came as part of a new rail task force report, published today by the Rail Industry Decarbonisation Task Force and the RSSB. Rail minister Andrew Jones welcomed the report.

Rail is already a naturally low-carbon transport mode. Despite making up around 10% of all distance travelled across the UK, rail is responsible for less than 2.5% of total transport emissions and about 0.6% of the UK’s total emissions.

However, the task force found that the industry and government can deliver a step change in rail’s emissions, removing diesel trains from the passenger network.

Battery, hydrogen and electrification will all have a key role to play, according to leading experts in sustainability and rolling stock.

They note that freight corridors face a different challenge as there are currently no viable alternatives to diesel, aside from full electrification. It recommends that further work is done to understand the potential for freight decarbonisation across all modes.

Work should start on identifying levels of investment, timescales and key decision points over the next 30 years, empowered by the right structures, frameworks and policies, and enabled by a full programme of R&D in support.

527 RSSB

In 2018, the Department for Transport set a challenge for rail to remove diesel-only trains and asked for a decarbonisation plan.

Over 3,000 carriages or vehicles used in diesel passenger trains will need to be replaced or converted in the years ahead, many of which are approaching their end of life. Electrification of key routes is likely to be the most cost-effective option for some of these vehicles, particularly for the higher speed intercity trains.

Mr Jones said: “I welcome this report, which sets out a clear and ambitious strategy for the rail industry to go further and faster in decarbonising the network.

“Since 2010 operators have ordered 7,800 new greener carriages, we have provided £4.5m of funding for innovative projects focused on tackling decarbonisation, and we are investing £48bn to modernise the rail network, enabling cleaner, more efficient journeys.

“We now have practical next steps which will see the rail industry playing its full part, as we push towards the UK’s target of greenhouse gas emissions being net zero by 2050.”

Chair of the task force, Malcolm Brown, said: “Britain is leading the world on setting clear targets to reduce carbon, and so it’s critical that all industries play their part.

“Rail is ahead of the curve on the decarbonisation agenda, and our report shows that we can align with the government’s policy for the UK economy to be net carbon zero by 2050.

“We will need to fully exploit electrification, hydrogen and battery power to make this happen, but we also need all transport sectors to fully comprehend the challenge of decarbonisation.’

 Andrew Haines, Network Rail chief executive, said: “There can be few more important tasks than ensuring that the greenest form of mass transit becomes greener still.

“That’s our ambition in rail as we deliver innovations that support the UK’s net zero carbon target.”


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