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Industry calls for increased rail electrification

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More than 15 rail businesses and industry groups have written an open letter to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps MP calling for a programme of rail electrification to begin as soon as possible, to meet the government’s legally binding Net Zero commitments.

The letter follows publication of a new report – “Why Rail Electrification?”– which sets out why, even with the development of clean new technologies like battery and hydrogen trains, the industry will be unable to decarbonise the rail network to the extent required without significant further electrification.

Rail is already a low carbon method of transport, contributing just 1.4% of all transport emissions. However, the industry will need to decarbonise further if it is to achieve the government’s aim of removing all diesel-only trains from the network by 2040 and meet the legally binding commitment of Net Zero by 2050.

 To achieve these goals, Network Rail has stated that 13,000 single track kilometres of track, or around 450km a year, will need to be electrified by 2050.

Darren Caplan, RIA.

 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.”

David Shirres.

David Shirres, lead author of the report, 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.”

Noel Dolphin.

Noel Dolphin from the Campaign to Electrify Britain’s Railway (CEBR) said: “We welcome the launch of the ‘Why Rail Electrification?’ report.

“Rail is already a low carbon option for transport. The report clearly demonstrates that, due to the laws of physics, the majority of the network will require electrification if the UK is to decarbonise the railway.

“We believe this can only be delivered affordably through a long-term rolling programme. With current electrification projects completing, we are about to enter another ‘boom and bust’ cycle, that will make it harder to achieve decarbonisation and cost efficiency in the future.

“We call on the government and Network Rail to bring forward ‘no regrets’ schemes now.”

Maggie Simpson, Rail Freight Group.

Maggie Simpson OBE, director general of Rail Freight Group (RFG), added: “Rail freight is already one of the most sustainable modes for moving goods, and our customers are ambitious for us to become even greener. 

“Electrification is essential for decarbonising rail freight and we support the publication of today’s report which sets out a compelling case for action.”

Rail union TSSA backed the call made by industry bodies in its letter to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, having made the same call repeatedly over recent years. The union believes that failure to commit to a programme of electrification has resulted in a stop-start approach to work, loss of skilled labour from the industry and, ultimately, much higher project costs. A solid commitment and rolling programme would be cheaper, more effective and the quickest way to cut carbon emissions from rail. Whilst battery and hydrogen may play a role at the periphery, TSSA believes the main solution is electrification.

Manuel Cortes, TSSA.

Manuel Cortes, TSSA General Secretary, said: “Electrification is the answer to decarbonising the railway. If the government is serious about its carbon reduction targets, then we need a rolling programme of electrification across our railways coupled with commitment to high-speed rail and Eurostar.

“Rail industry bodies have rightly called on Grant Shapps to back electrification of our railways. Such a move would cut carbon emissions, create skilled jobs, and give a welcome economic boost alongside an enhanced clean public transport network.

“Britain invented the railways, and we can again lead the way on sustainable rail infrastructure which improves connectivity for our communities. Electrification is a no-brainer which this government must commit to in full ahead of COP26.”

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