Railway Industry Urges Government To Begin Programme Of Rail Electrification Now

  • An open letter to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, signed by more than 15 industry, business and campaign groups and published today, urges the Government to begin an immediate programme of rail electrification;
  • A new report shows that it will be impossible to decarbonise rail without further electrification;
  • Data shows from 2019 to 2020, just 251km of track was electrified in Great Britain; contrasting sharply with the c.450km a year, starting in 2021, which Network Rail has said is required to reach Net Zero by 2050. There is currently no further significant construction of electrification schemes authorised in England.

An open letter to the Transport Secretary Grant Shapps MP, signed by more than 15 rail businesses, and industry and campaign groups, has called for a programme of rail electrification to begin as soon as possible to meet the Government’s legally binding Net Zero commitments.

The letter comes on the back of a new report, “Why Rail Electrification?” which sets out why – even with the development of clean new technologies like battery and hydrogen trains – the industry will be unable to decarbonise the rail network to the extent required without significant further electrification.

Rail is already a low carbon method of transport, contributing just 1.4% of all transport emissions. However, the industry will need to decarbonise further if it is to achieve the Government’s aim of removing all diesel-only trains off the network by 2040 and the legally binding commitment to Net Zero by 2050.

According to Network Rail, to decarbonise the network, 13,000 single track kilometres – or around 450km a year – of track will need to be electrified by 2050 in order to achieve Net Zero, yet from 2019-2020 only 251km was electrified.

Commenting, CECA Chief Executive Alasdair Reisner said: “Electrifying rail provides clear benefits to passengers and freight transport as outlined in ‘Why Rail Electrification?’. Now, as the UK looks to meet its net-zero targets, there is added urgency to decarbonise the rail network through a rolling programme of electrification. Moving on from a stop-start approach, industry is ready to deliver investment in a way that better retains skills and provides the best value for money.”

Darren Caplan, Chief Executive of the Railway Industry Association (RIA), said: “It’s great to launch the ‘Why Rail Electrification?’ report today, as part of RIA’s RailDecarb21 campaign – calling on the Government to support efforts to decarbonise the rail network ahead of the COP26 Conference in Glasgow later this year.

“The report clearly shows the rail industry will be unable to decarbonise the network without a rolling programme of electrification. As RIA has demonstrated in recent work, electrification in the UK can be delivered affordably, at up to 50% the cost of some past projects, if there is a long-term, consistent, profile of work rather than the current situation of boom and bust.

“Crucially, a rolling programme of electrification needs to start now if the Government is to hit its Net Zero obligations, and if the railway industry is not to lose capability and expertise from the current hiatus in activity. Also, by committing to electrification immediately, UK rail could be a world leader, creating and sustaining green jobs, investment and economic growth at a critical time for the UK economy as we all seek to build out of the Coronavirus pandemic.”

Report Lead Author, David Shirres, said: “The ‘Why Rail Electrification?’ report complements Network Rail’s Traction Decarbonisation Network Strategy by explaining why electrification is both a future-proof technology and a good investment.

“If Britain is to decarbonise, transport has to be weaned off petroleum for which the only zero-carbon alternative is electricity. However, electricity can only be transmitted to fixed locations and then converted into another form of energy for on-board storage. This significantly limits a vehicle’s power and range. In contrast, electric trains collect electricity on the move from fixed current collection systems and feed it straight into their motors without any energy conversion losses. Hence, they offer efficient high-powered net-zero carbon traction with large passenger, freight, and operational benefits.

“It is hoped that this report, which is supported by rail businesses and professional engineering institutions, will be read by decision makers to enable them to understand exactly why rail electrification offers such advantages.”

Noel Dolphin, Campaign to Electrify Britain’s Railway (CEBR), said: “We welcome the launch of ‘Why Rail Electrification?’ report. Rail is already a low carbon option for transport. The report clearly demonstrates that due to the laws of physics the majority of the network will require electrification, if the UK is decarbonise the railway. We believe this can only be delivered affordably through a long-term rolling programme. With current electrification projects completing, we are about to enter another boom and bust cycle, that will make it harder to achieve decarbonisation and cost efficiency in the future. We call on the Government and Network Rail to bring forward ‘no regrets’ schemes now.”

Luke Osborne, ECA’s Energy & Emerging Technologies Solutions Advisor, said: “Full electrification of our transport network is an essential part of the drive to net zero. If we are to reach zero carbon emissions by 2050 we must invest in an electric infrastructure which can be supported through decarbonisation of our energy networks and advances in electrical energy storage systems.”