Freight Groups Call For Faster Electrification Of UK Railways

Rail and freight associations are calling on the UK government to speed up the electrification process of the country’s railways, The Loadstar reports. The groups, including Logistics UK and the Rail Freight Group (RFG), are concerned that the government will risk failing to meet its 2050 emissions targets unless more action is taken.

A letter to transport secretary Grant Shapps from the groups calls for an ongoing process of electrification along 13,000 single-track km (STK) to begin as soon as possible. Unless the work starts soon, the UK will struggle to achieve net zero by 2050.

Director general of RFG Maggie Simpson said electrifying the rail network was not something about which “government has a choice.” She added: “We have to invest in new terminal and equipment and this takes time, so we have to be planning this into our asset strategies.”

“It has hard targets and, while rail may be the least emitting of the transport modes today, it is irrelevant where we are in the pecking order, because being the best now will not let us off the hook for where we will need to be in 2040.”

According to Engineering and Technology, an estimated 62% of the UK rail network is diesel-powered, compared with 38% currently electric. Transport accounts for the largest source of carbon dioxide emissions of any sector in the UK, at 27%. Hydrogen and battery powered trains are being developed, but there is no clear finish date in sight.

The government has set a target to ban diesel by 2040, giving rail operators fewer than twenty years to make the major change from diesel to greener fuel sources. The Loadstar article references the publication of the Why Rail Electrification? report, which is sceptical about the scope of battery powered trains.

The issue with carrying freight on a battery powered train would be that to achieve an average speed of 60mph, three extra carriages would be needed to house the batteries. This renders the process highly inefficient and impractical for most freight operators. Therefore, the only realistic option to meet targets is to electrify the core network at pace.

For the core network to be fully electrified by 2050, 13,000 STK would need to be converted at a rate of 450 STK annually. The cost is estimated to be £750,000-£1m per STK, rising to £1.5m-£2m for more complex areas. However, a steady pipeline of work could reduce costs in the long run by between 38% and 50%.

It is suggested that a sensible approach to help speed up the process would be to focus on lines which are most frequently used, such as rail lines into ports. For example, the London Gateway has a three-mile stretch which remains unelectrified, and Teesport has an eight-mile gap.

The article points out that each freight train takes around 76 HGVs off the road, so electrifying and upgrading the rail service will have a wider impact on the environment and emissions targets than simply reducing diesel pollution from trains.

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