The Rail Industry Association (RIA) has spoken about its belief in the need to expedite electrification – or risk missing the rail industry’s 2050 deadline for decarbonisation.
Their call has been echoed by rail union RMT, which described progress as “shameful and embarrassing”.
The comments follow new data from the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) – which the RIA says suggests that the sector is simply not moving fast enough. Statistics show that in 2020-21, 179 track kilometres in Great Britain was newly electrified, which the RIA points out is less than half of the 448 kilometres needed each year (should work be paced year-on-year equally) to meet Network Rail’s target of a Net Zero railway by 2050.
This electrification statistic is based on individual track, and not route length.
David Clarke, technical director of the RIA, who authored the Electrification Cost Challenge Report in 2019, said: “New data published today shows that the UK electrified some 179 track kilometres in 2020-21, mostly on completing the Midland Mainline upgrade between Bedford and Corby. Yet, according to Network Rail’s Decarbonisation Strategy, we need to deliver 13,000 kilometres of electrification by 2050, meaning we need to be electrifying around 400 kilometres a year, more than double the rate we’re currently doing. And what’s more, with no major schemes coming down the line, we can reasonably expect that there will be less work, not more, in the coming year.
“The Railway Industry Association has long called for a sustainable, cost-effective programme of electrification, alongside support for battery and hydrogen powered trains, in order to meet the Government’s Net Zero target by 2050 – an approach which was endorsed in the Government’s Transport Decarbonisation Plan in July. Yet, at the current rate, we are unlikely to meet that target. Crucially, the industry is also losing expertise and capabilities whilst schemes are stalled, meaning it will be harder to deliver the considerable amount of work needed if and when new projects are started.
“We need to get a programme of electrification work underway today, so we can decarbonise the network, bring greater benefits to passengers and freight user, and support the UK economy as we look to ‘build back better’.”
So far, 6,045km of the mainline railway route is now electrified. This is 37.9% of all route length.
The RMT drew comparisons with other countries, with Switzerland’s 100% electrification, as well as Poland’s (59%), Germany’s (55%) and France’s (53%) progress.
RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: “This news on track electrification is utterly shameful and embarrassing for the UK Government and the country going backwards with a decrease in overall route electrification.
“The UK is trailing far behind our European counterparts, and now the embarrassing spectre of rail freight operators withdrawing all their electric locomotives from service due to the government not planning to keep electricity prices at an affordable level.
“Yesterday we heard news of yet another wholesale attack on railway worker’s jobs and today I am calling on the government to get real. If Boris Johnson is serious about climate change and cutting carbon emissions, then he should prove it by pledging the greatest investment in our railways and our essential railway workers ever.
“The government’s current path of austerity, job cuts and pitiful investment in our railway will be resisted and challenged with the full might of our union.”