In a speech delivered yesterday by rail minister Jo Johnson, the UK rail industry was urged to be more environmentally ambitious and given a warning to come forward with ideas and strategies to ensure the phasing out of diesel-only trains is achievable.
“I would like to see us take all diesel-only trains off the track by 2040,” Johnson said. “If that seems like an ambitious goal, it should be and I make no apology for that. After all, we’re committed to ending the sales of petrol and diesel cars by 2040. If we can achieve that, then why can’t the railway aspire to a similar objective?”
Johnson ( @JoJohnsonUK ) mooted hydrogen trains as a solution; “Alternative-fuel trains powered entirely by hydrogen are a prize on the horizon. I’d like to see hydrogen train trials on the UK railway as soon as possible. Hydrogen offers an affordable – and potentially much cleaner – alternative to diesel.And the technology has developed fast in recent years. To the extent that Alstom is now testing a train (pictured above) which only emits steam and condensed water - yet is capable of 140 km per hour and a range of up to 800 kilometres.”
Johnson also added in the speech titled a ‘Cleaner, Greener Railway’: “By decarbonising rail, we’ll reduce pollutants and improve air quality, particularly in our semi-enclosed stations. We will tackle this with the urgency it deserves by setting tough new environmental performance goals in each rail franchise which the train operators will have to meet. Total electrification of our tracks is unlikely to be the only or most cost-effective way to secure these vital environmental benefits. New bi-modes trains are a great bridging technology to other low emission futures.”
Whilst hydrogen trains are commendable, the government in July of 2017,scrapped the long planned electrification of railway lines in Wales, the Midlands and the North. The government cited rising costs for the reason and argued that improvements could be made without electrification. But this U-Turn, which caused a political storm, and has resulted in an enquiry being opened, did much to damage the Tory government's commitment to more sustainable rail practices.
So how has the industry responded to Johnson’s speech?
Mark Phillips, Chief Executive of RSSB ( @RSSB_rail ) the Rail Safety and Standards Board was positive: “We welcome the Minister’s ambition to reduce carbon emissions from the railways. RSSB is leading the way through our research and innovation programmes, and by facilitating the Sustainable Rail Programme. In 2015, we co-funded a £7 million pilot of a battery-powered train with industry partners, and we are working with Alstom to pilot a hydrogen powered train in late 2019 or early 2020. We look forward to continuing to work with the Government to realise the vision of a cleaner, more efficient and more sustainable railway.”
Dr Jenifer Baxter ( @IMechE ) Head of Engineering at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers urged interim measures: “Phasing out diesel-only trains is an important step. But achieving the transition to a low carbon transport network will require the introduction of a mix of different technologies and policies. The Government has outlined plans to phase out diesel trains by 2040 and over the course of the next 20 years we may see the introduction of hybrid trains using diesel and battery technologies as well as hydrogen trains on lines where electrification is cost prohibitive. In the interim it may be appropriate to retrofit technology, such as stop-start functionality on existing diesel locomotives, reducing emissions while trains are standing at platforms.”
“There is also the option of bi-mode trains that can run on both electrified and diesel lines, however these have higher capital and maintenance costs than pure electric trains and as they are heavier they also emit even more emissions than diesel trains, when operating in diesel mode” added Baxter.
Rail union RMT ( @RMTunion ) General Secretary Mick Cash was critical; "If you were serious about cracking on with the phasing out of diesel trains you wouldn't be scrapping key electrification projects which will mean the commissioning of more diesel operated fleet. That scrapping of long-planned electrification rail works by Chris Grayling makes a mockery of Jo Johnson's "aspiration" to scrap diesel units by 2040. There is also the question of who pays for this. There must be no free ride for Britain's rip-off private rail companies at the tax-payers expense.”
What do you think? Will diesel trains be gone from the British network by 2040? Add your thoughts in the comment section below.
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