UK:Decarbonisation – Our final report to the Rail Minister-RSSB

Britain is leading the world on setting clear targets to reduce carbon, and so it’s critical that all industries – including rail – play their part.

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

I am pleased to present, on behalf of the Rail Industry Decarbonisation Taskforce and RSSB, the final report responding 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.”

The initial report published in January 2019 set out credible technical options to achieve this goal and was widely welcomed by stakeholders.  RIA has published its report on the Electrification Cost Challenge. 

This final report 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.

It’s worth noting that the Scottish Government is considering complementary initiatives to decarbonise rail, supported by engagement with stakeholders, in line with the outline strategy presented by RSSB. The Scottish Government has acted on the advice from the Committee on Climate Change by lodging in September 2019 amendments to the Climate Change (Scotland) Bill to set a legally binding target of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045 at the latest.

The GB rail system continues to be one of the lowest carbon modes of transport. It has made material progress in the short time since the publication of the initial report:

  • The industry has continued to develop technologies toward lower carbon.
  • RSSB has completed its technical report into decarbonisation, T1145.
  • The investigation into alternatives for freight, T1160, is well underway.
  • The Network Rail System Operator is conducting a strategic review to develop the lowest cost pathway to net zero carbon.

The Taskforce is very cognisant of the Government Review of the rail industry ongoing under the independent chairmanship of Keith Williams and we have provided evidence accordingly.

Throughout this report we have endeavoured to use the current structures and bodies, rather than cutting across the Williams review and/or suggesting the need to create new bodies and interfaces. We looked at the improvements in safety achieved within the industry and have sought to adopt similar principles; action plans at a ‘local’ level contributing to an overall strategy, named individuals responsible, and overall monitoring body.

It remains our view that the removal of diesel only passenger trains from the national rail network by 2040 and the whole industry contributing to the Government’s net zero carbon target by 2050, is achievable. We note that the most cost-effective way to achieve net zero carbon may be to net off some residual rail emissions within the wider UK carbon reduction effort. However, a number of key decisions have to be taken from this point on, with the clear target of net zero carbon by 2050 or before.

Building on the initial report, 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.

These recommendations are further expanded in this report.

GB Rail can be a major contributor toward net zero carbon by 2050. The Taskforce has considered a number of 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.

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