Train running on a non-electrified part of the East Coast Mainline

Government urged to begin immediate rail electrification works

More than 15 rail businesses, industry and campaign groups have united to submit an open letter to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, urging the Government to begin an immediate programme of rail electrification.

The letter has been sent off the back of a new report - ‘Why Rail Electrification?- which suggests that on current progress, it would be impossible to decarbonise rail within the expected timeframes.

Without significant further electrification of the rail network, the letter’s signatories argue the industry will be unable to achieve its green ambitions, even with the further development of new clean technologies such as battery and hydrogen-powered trains.

Network Rail have said that in order to decarbonise the entire network, 13,000 single track kilometres needs to be electrified by 2050. That is the equivalent of around 450km of track a year being electrified.

Data included in the report showed that between 2019 and 2020, just 251km of track was electrified across Great Britain.

Rail is already a relatively low carbon method of transport, contributing just 1.4% of all transport emissions. However, in order to meet the Government’s aim of removing all diesel-only trains from the network by 2040, and it’s legally-binding commitment to becoming net-zero by 2050, the industry will still need to further decarbonise.

Darren Caplan, Chief Executive of the Railway Industry Association (RIA), said: “It’s great to launch the ‘Why Rail Electrification?’ report today, as part of RIA’s RailDecarb21 campaign – calling on the Government to support efforts to decarbonise the rail network ahead of the COP26 Conference in Glasgow later this year.

“The report clearly shows the rail industry will be unable to decarbonise the network without a rolling programme of electrification.

“As RIA has demonstrated in recent work, electrification in the UK can be delivered affordably, at up to 50% the cost of some past projects, if there is a long-term, consistent, profile of work rather than the current situation of boom and bust.

“Crucially, a rolling programme of electrification needs to start now if the Government is to hit its net-zero obligations, and if the railway industry is not to lose capability and expertise from the current hiatus in activity.

“Also, by committing to electrification immediately, UK rail could be a world leader, creating and sustaining green jobs, investment and economic growth at a critical time for the UK economy as we all seek to build out of the coronavirus pandemic.”

Lead Author of the report, David Shirres, added: “The ‘Why Rail Electrification?’ report complements Network Rail’s Traction Decarbonisation Network Strategy by explaining why electrification is both a future-proof technology and a good investment.

“If Britain is to decarbonise, transport has to be weaned off petroleum for which the only zero-carbon alternative is electricity. However, electricity can only be transmitted to fixed locations and then converted into another form of energy for on-board storage. This significantly limits a vehicle’s power and range.

“In contrast, electric trains collect electricity on the move from fixed current collection systems and feed it straight into their motors without any energy conversion losses. Hence, they offer efficient high-powered net-zero carbon traction with large passenger, freight, and operational benefits.

 “It is hoped that this report, which is supported by rail businesses and professional engineering institutions, will be read by decision makers to enable them to understand exactly why rail electrification offers such advantages.”


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