Rail is ahead of the curve on the decarbonisation agenda and can align with the government’s policy for the UK economy to be net carbon zero by 2050.

On 22 July 2019, the Rail Industry Decarbonisation Task Force and RSSB published its final report for the Rail Minister - preview below.

This report responds to the Minister for Rail’s challenge to the industry to remove “all diesel only trains off the track by 2040” and “produce a vision for how the rail industry will decarbonise.”

This report recommends that the industry and government work together on a national strategy. In doing so rail can play a major role in contributing to the UK economy becoming net carbon zero by 2050.

The report includes an economic appraisal and a route map for delivery a low carbon railway. It confirms that the rail industry can lead the way in Europe on the drive to decarbonise. It sets out the key building blocks required to achieve the vision that the rail industry can be a major contributor to the UK government’s target of net zero carbon by 2050, provided that we start now.

Our final report makes five strategic recommendations for all involved in GB rail to achieve our objective:

  • Targets – the industry, including government, should support the target of net zero carbon by 2050 as proposed by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC).
  • Policy – the whole industry has responsibility to contribute to net zero carbon in a cost-effective manner. To facilitate this, the Government should set out clear, consistent and enabling policies.
  • Industry structure – from the Williams Review we should have an industry structure which effectively enables, incentivises, monitors and regulates the route to net zero carbon.
  • Delivery plan – each key constituent of the industry eg Network Rail, TOC, FOC, ROSCO etc, should publish a long-term plan to achieve interim and long-term targets towards rail decarbonisation in support of net zero carbon by 2050. These will be reviewed, monitored and regulated by a central body.
  • Research and Development – the industry should set out clear 5-year periodic research plans to reduce technical and implementation uncertainties.

The Taskforce has considered several pathways toward reducing carbon, which are detailed in the report. What is clear is that significant decarbonisation by 2050 can only be achieved with a balanced and judicious mix of cost-effective electrification, coupled with the deployment of targeted battery and hydrogen technology where these are the best solution.

The final report builds on the findings of the Initial Report to the Rail Minister published in January 2019. This set out credible technical options to achieve this goal and was widely welcomed by stakeholders.

These reports are underpinned by an extensive research project ‘Options for traction energy decarbonisation in rail’ - project reference T1145 - which is available to download from SPARK. This research improves our understanding of the path towards decarbonising traction energy, and the associated economic and commercial case.