Urgent action needed on decarbonisation of trains

In terms of the decarbonisation of transport, big decisions on how to power Britain’s trains rank as the most urgent, according to an article by The Conversation.

Published on 30 October, it explained that while petrol and diesel vehicles are set to be completely phased out by 2040, cars are only in service for 10 years. In contrast, trains can run for over 40 years which means that those being built today will only be in “mid-life” by 2050 – the date when the UK must hit its net zero target. This means that zero carbon trains will have to be ordered and delivered from 2025 onwards to keep on track.

With 42% of track in the UK currently electrified and 29% of Britain’s current fleet running on diesel fuel, the article looked at a series of options with regards to the full decarbonisation of trains. Electric-diesel hybrids were found to be capable of reducing diesel in the short-term, but not a long-term solution for removing diesel by 2040, while battery trains were noting as only working on specific routes and not easily replaceable when failing, leading to disruptions and delays. Meanwhile, although hydrogen has considerable benefits, its low energy density would mean trains have to have a “very large space” to store the fuel. The article added that no facilities existing in the UK to make or deploy large quantities of hydrogen, though noted this could change over the next 10 years.

In conclusion, the piece stressed there was no perfect solution on its own but a combination of the options presented could be the way forwards. By using each where most appropriate, it would gradually shift British rail away from fossil fuels. It added that with the freight industry unlikely to come up with viable solutions on its own, the government should mandate businesses to transform their operations.

The Conversation