Rail electrification possible for 95% of UK freight trains, CILT research reveals

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The Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CILT) in the UK has released its electrification strategy research, which reveals that only 800 miles of additional electrification is needed in the UK to enable 95% of rail freight to be electrically hauled.

CILT has released a detailed map and strategy which demonstrates and details the opportunity in the UK to electrify 95% of rail freight operations by the mid-2040s.

Out of the 800 miles, the initial 60 miles of infill electrification is estimated to cost approximately £50m per annum over two years – less than the cost of one road scheme – and represent a “no regrets” way of decarbonizing key parts of the UK logistics system, CILT noted.

Currently, only 10% of British freight trains are hauled by electric locomotives and the UK lags behind its European counterparts when it comes to rail freight electrification.

Furthermore, CILT suggests an electrification program of 40 route miles per annum for 20 years, at a cost of £100 million per annum, is required to deliver this significant opportunity for the UK to meet its decarbonation and net-zero goals.

While decarbonizing technology for other modes of transport is still emerging, and therefore sometimes challenging to introduce, electrified rail transport is a fully mature, proven green technology which has been in use for more than 60 years. CILT sees this opportunity as “low-hanging fruit” when it comes to decarbonization and reducing emissions from transport operations.

Based on detailed analysis of data on rail freight movements across the UK, the routes proposed for electrification lead from main container ports to inland distribution centers, which are key supply chain hubs, and from major quarries to urban areas that require large quantities of construction materials. Also included are routes serving other key rail freight customers such as the steel industry.

Julian Worth FCILT, chair of CILT’s Rail Freight Forum and lead author of the strategy, said, “The CILT electrification strategy would allow circa 95% of UK freight trains to be hauled by electric locomotives by the mid-2040s, saving considerable amounts of carbon every year. The strategy benefits passengers as well as freight customers. Almost all the routes involved carry passenger trains and the strategy would enable life-expired diesel trains to be replaced by modern electric units.”

Sharon Kindleysides FCILT, chief executive at CILT, added, “CILT is committed to helping policy makers, industry and professionals play their part in the route to net-zero. Our policy groups have worked tirelessly on this research to demonstrate the opportunity electrifying our rail freight sector presents. The CILT electrification strategy also strongly supports other policy imperatives, notably levelling-up and union connectivity and sees rail freight electrification as a key part of the route to net zero.”

To view the CILT electrification strategy and map in full, click here.