Rail Industry agrees new framework to meet sustainability challenges

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The Rail Safety and Standards Board today launched the Sustainable Rail Blueprint, a new framework to support the rail industry in Great Britain make efficient progress on environmental and social sustainability challenges.

Travelling by rail is already the most sustainable mode of long-distance transport for people and goods, being responsible for just 1.4% of the UK’s overall transport carbon emissions. However, there is a broader challenge for the rail industry, not just to deliver net zero but improve its impact on the environment, local communities, and society.

The Department for Transport identified the need for a cross industry strategy in 2020, and funded development of the Blueprint—co-created with industry stakeholders and delivered by RSSB’s sustainability experts.

The Sustainable Rail Blueprint is the rail industry’s consensus view of how rail can deliver even more across environmental and social issues. As the industry adapts to changes in passenger and freight demands and changes in rail usage post pandemic, the Blueprint will help inform debate and decisions on options, affordability, and practicality. 

The Blueprint details policy milestones and proposed initiatives that strike a balance between ambition, practicality, and financial pressures. The focus is on delivering government objectives on carbon reduction, improving air quality, protecting and conserving biodiversity, resources and improving quality of life across Great Britain. 

It sets out for the first time what the rail industry needs to achieve, how it can be delivered and who needs to contribute on: 

  • Eleven sustainable rail topics, across emissions, natural environment, and social sustainability.
  • Six common solutions identified as the primary enablers of sustainable rail.
  • The role of train operators, infrastructure managers, rolling stock owners, the supply chain, government, and regulators in delivering sustainable rail. 

The rail industry is already working to implement the Blueprint. Companies are aligning their existing sustainability strategies and work plans around the aims set out in the Blueprint. RSSB is leading several programmes to embed sustainability across the rail industry. These include a data platform to measure and monitor sustainability performance, a learning hub to develop the industry’s knowledge and capacity and integration of the Blueprint across the industry’s business processes and contractual mechanisms. RSSB is also facilitating the industry’s sustainable rail working groups, driving collective action across a range of technical topics.

Huw Merriman, Rail Minister said: 

‘As we look to achieve our net zero goals, this government-commissioned blueprint will become a vital resource for the rail industry, providing clear guidance on what a sustainable railway for the future should look like.

‘While significant progress has already been made in recent years, this report will further support the industry in reducing its environmental impact, using innovative techniques to make our rail network even greener, and ensuring the environment is at the heart of our decision making.’

Malcolm Brown, CEO of Angel Trains and Chair of the Sustainable Rail Executive said: 

‘The Sustainable Rail Blueprint is a solid example of what can be achieved through collaborative working across the GB rail industry, with a unified approach to delivering broad benefits for both the environment and society. 

‘The clear roadmaps set out within the Blueprint will help drive this ambitious programme forward and ensure we remain focused on affordability and practicality as we seek to make significant improvements to our operations as a whole.’    

George Davies, RSSB Director of Sustainable Development said: 

‘RSSB has led development of the Sustainable Rail Blueprint, co-creating it with the rail industry, for the rail industry. It’s a practical resource to shape thinking and guide action across environmental and social issues, whilst recognising the pressures our industry is under currently.

‘The Sustainable Rail Blueprint sets out what needs addressing, how it can be worked on and who needs to get involved.  Reflecting legislation and policy along with what society expects, the Blueprint brings consistency to realise and even more sustainable railway.’

Elaine Seagriff, Programme Director, Strategy at the Great British Railways Transition Team, said:

‘The rail industry has the opportunity to drive forward sustainability for Britain, not just by reducing the impact on the environment of moving people and goods but also in encouraging investment in and the development of new technologies. As such, we welcome the publication of the Sustainable Rail Blueprint, which is a key input to the long-term Strategy for Rail.’

Editors’ Notes

  1. The Rail Safety and Standards Board is the independent safety, standards, and research body for Great Britain’s rail network. We help to make an evolving railway safer, more efficient, and more sustainable. We work collaboratively with an evolving industry to ensure that innovative and sustainable technology is operated safely, efficiently, and cost-effectively. We codify and share best practice, both in Britain and abroad. We are proudly impartial, and home to some of rail’s leading experts on technical matters. Guided by facts and analysis, we help to bridge knowledge gaps, optimise use of the latest technology, and disseminate and systemise industry best practice.
  2. The Sustainable Rail Executive have overseen the development of the Sustainable Rail Blueprint. Made up of leaders from across the industry, the group is committed to ensuring rail continues to be the leading mode of sustainable transport. It works to respond to government policy, promoting an ambitious, affordable, and coherent rail sustainability programme. For more information visit;
  3. In May 2022, an early draft document called the ‘Sustainable Rail Strategy Prototype’ was published by RSSB for a 3-month period of consultation. The consultation report was subsequently published, with feedback and continued industry engagement informing the development of the final Sustainable Rail Blueprint.