Transport Committee Calls for Rolling Programme of Electrification

The UK’s Transport Committee has published a new report, Trains Fit for the Future?, which says the government must give the rail industry a clear strategy on how to decarbonise the network in order for it to hit its own decarbonisation deadline.

It makes the following recommendations:

  • a 30-year rolling programme of electrification now, rather than waiting for CP7
  • the prominent integration of new technological advances such as battery and hydrogen power
  • cost scrutiny to prevent overspending

The vision for decarbonisation, the report says, should be based on the correct costings, an achievable delivery plan and enabling targets and milestones.

Rolling Programme of Electrification

One of the key recommendations from the Transport Committee was for the Department for Transport (DfT) to implement a 30-year rolling programme of electrification. The government has a legally binding target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050. There has also been a ministerial pledge to have no more diesel-only trains on the rail network by 2040. To achieve these goals, the government should immediately implement a rolling programme of electrification that it should get underway as soon as possible rather than waiting for Control Period 7, which begins in 2024.

The report also stresses that “electrification is the only immediate decarbonisation option for most of the network“. Consequently, the DfT should publish the list of ‘no regret’ electrification projects put forward by Network Rail and decide which ones should be implemented first and when they will be done. The Transport Committee wanted to emphasise, however, that it wanted Network Rail as well as he rail industry to be subject to more transparency on controls over cost.

Battery and Hydrogen Technology

The report suggested adopting battery and hydrogen technology as “an important way of decarbonising the rail network”. The Transport Committee said it wanted the DfT to make sure hydrogen trains would be part of the upcoming national hydrogen strategy. As such, it wanted the DfT to report on its plans to encourage the growth of a battery industry for rail in the UK.

The Transport Committee Chair, Huw Merriman MP, took the view that because it would take some time for battery and hydrogen-powered trains to be ready, electrification was left as the main option. However, technology readiness is not the only factor to consider here. In its Traction Decarbonisation Network Strategy, Network Rail said that of the 15,400 Single Track Kilometres that were as yet unelectrified in the country, 13,000 would be best-served by being electrified, rather than having alternative traction rolling stock such as hydrogen or battery-powered trains running on them.

It should also be noted that although transport is responsible for 27 percent of carbon emissions in the country – correctly identified as the worst offender by category by the Committee Chair – the vast majority of that pollution comes from other modes of transport such as vehicles and planes.

Transport Committee Chair, Huw Merriman MP, said:

“Rail contributes less than one per cent of the total UK annual greenhouse gas emissions and has a huge role to play in helping us move people and goods around using zero-carbon solutions. We must ensure that we don’t push freight on to the roads as the move from road to rail freight is an important part of meeting our net zero targets.”

The Rail Industry Association (RIA) said it welcomed the report.

“We need to get on with decarbonising our rail network today if we are to meet the Government’s target of Net Zero by 2050. That means starting a rolling programme of affordable electrification that avoids the ‘boom and bust’ profiles of the past, thereby allowing the rail industry to continue to retain and develop expertise and capabilities so that it can deliver efficiently and affordably. We also need to see fleet orders of battery and hydrogen trains, which the industry is now developed enough to deliver, so that we can decarbonise branch lines around the country [...].”

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