RIA: Routes to Zero Carbon rail via electrification

RIA: Routes to Zero Carbon Rail via electrification

At such a vital time for the UK and the rail industry, with the UK’s Net Zero target less than 30 years away and the impact that Covid-19 has and will have on the economy, RIA is holding a series of Unlocking Innovation webinars to cover the key issues in how rail can achieve net zero by 2050.

While this is a clearly a challenging period for the UK, it is also vital that the UK has a clear plan to reach our environmental targets. RIA’s first webinar in the Routes to Zero Carbon rail series was held on Monday (Oct 19th), and discussed ‘Driving Electrification.’

The first speaker was Helen McAllister, Strategy and Planning Director at Network Rail. First and foremost, she emphasized the urgency of decarbonising as soon as possible and the importance of determining the strategic case to do so.

On the former, Helen was stated: “We need to start now to have any chance of getting there [net-zero by 2050] in an efficient and affordable way”.

On the latter, she referred to Network Rail’s Traction Decarbonisation Network Strategy (TDNS). The strategy details that the majority of the network will need to be electrified, although low carbon rolling stock will be vital for some lines. The Strategy concludes that over 11,000 standard track kilometres of electrification will be needed.

The question then remains not whether to, but how to decarbonise at such speed and scale. Importantly, Helen emphasized the need for current projects to consider operating zero carbon rolling stock in the future, and that a significant amount of testing will need to be started immediately.  

The main conclusion was that work must start now with a clear prioritised programme for delivery and for rail to, “demonstrate that we can deliver, delivery efficiently, and deliver reliably.”

The next speaker was Justin Moss, who is the Strategic Development Director at Siemens. He spoke of the importance of how electrification can help be delivered, overcoming the Victorian infrastructure which still exists across the network.

Drawing on the DfT’s Decarbonising Transport paper from March this year, which set out a clear challenge to the sector, Justin emphasised the role that electrification will play in achieving this given 58% of the network has not yet been electrified.

However, according to Justin, to achieve this will require decision makers to view rail as a whole integrated system and implement a steady, long-term programme of work. Notably, he concluded that every part of the industry has a role to play in driving decarbonisation in rail.

Riding Sunbeams’ Alex Byford was the next speaker to share their work on electrifying rail in the UK. Riding Sunbeams plan to integrate solar and wind power directly into the rail network in order to completely decarbonise power traction demands for trains on the network.

Alex highlighted their work in this area on the Green Valley Lines project which examined how they could connect green power to rail lines in Wales. He added that one main obstacle remains, the need for low-cost, modular converter, and that his company are working on developing one for the railways existing technology.

The final speaker was Dr Tim Harrison from the University of Loughborough, spoke of his work with colleague Dr Will Midgley into decarbonising bi-mode trains. From their detailed research on journeys from Paddington to Plymouth and Paignton, their team have been able to model where the main emissions were released and identify how these can be reduced.

Following the main presentations, RIA also heard from three elevator pitches. First up was Richard Stainton from Network Rail who set out some of the projects their Enabling Electrification workstream has supported.

Second was the University of Huddersfield’s Professor João Pombo, who explored their innovative PantoCat numerical analysis tool and exciting plans for their pantograph test rig.

The final was a presentation from Composite Braiding’s Steve Barbour who outlined the benefits composites have to offer.

The next Unlocking Innovation event will take place Tuesday 20 October and will cover Decarbonising Self-Powered Rolling Stock – register for the free event here.

 

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