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Government's decarbonisation ambition demands clear strategy for sustainable rail

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The UK Government’s Transport Decarbonisation Plan, and Rail Environment Policy, show that rail must be at the heart of the UK’s sustainable transport system, says rail body RSSB.

RSSB experts believe the Government’s ambitions and positive tone need to be translated into tangible strategies backed up with the right investment and resource. The rail body is leading the development of a new Sustainable Rail Strategy, which will provide the options and insight for bringing the policy agenda to life.

Rail is already a naturally low-carbon transport mode. Despite making up around 10% of all distance travelled across the UK, rail is responsible for less than 2.5% of total transport emissions and about 0.6% of the UK’s total emissions.

This gives rail a huge head-start in the race to decarbonise against road, aviation and maritime, says RSSB.

Rail needs to be better recognised as an alternative to driving and flying, with more encouragement for trains to take the strain on carrying more passengers and freight. Shifting mode means decarbonisation can also be driven by choices and behaviour, and not just cleaner and greener technologies. More work is required on the economic analysis, carbon pricing and incentives for rail.

RSSB has also noted the positive emphasis on freight. Rail makes 76% less CO2 than road freight, and one freight train keeps an average of 76 HGVs off the road.

The rail body has welcomed the ambition to decarbonise all forms of domestic transport, and notes that rail will need to keep up with its own plans to phase out diesel traction, increase electrification through a long-term rolling programme, and explore hydrogen and battery alternatives where electrification isn’t suitable.

RSSB will be taking time to review the “greenprint” and feed it into the development of the new Sustainable Rail Strategy, due for publication towards the end of 2021.

RSSB’s Director of Sustainable Development, George Davies said:

"We welcome the publication of the Government’s Transport Decarbonisation Plan and Rail Environment Policy – both provide positive ambition and good steers for the development of the new Sustainable Rail Strategy. It’s vital we keep pace with applying cleaner and greener technology to decarbonise transport as a whole, but also really important to help incentivise people and freight make the switch to lower carbon modes like rail."

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