UK rail sector hit by surging wholesale energy prices

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A number of non-franchised rail operators in the UK are feeling the effects of the energy crisis and surging wholesale prices with one rail company withdrawing its entire electric fleet as a result.

Rail freight and logistics company Freightliner Group has announced that it is withdrawing its electric locomotives due to soaring electricity prices.

In a statement, Freightliner said, “As a result of an unprecedented increase in electricity prices, FL has taken the difficult decision to temporarily replace its electric freight services with diesel-hauled services in order to maintain a cost-effective solution for transporting essential goods and supplies around the UK.

“Rail remains the most carbon-efficient way to transport freight around Great Britain, even with diesel locomotives. Each ton of freight moved by rail instead of road reduces CO2 emissions by 76%.”

According to the Rail Freight Group, which is the representative body for rail freight in the UK, some rail operators are experiencing a 200% increase in electricity costs for each train which “cannot be absorbed by the operators or customers”.

“The current significant increase in the wholesale cost of electricity for haulage means that some operators have had to take the regrettable decision to temporarily move back to diesel locomotives. This action is being taken to ensure that trains can continue to operate delivering vital goods across the country. Our members are assuring us that this is a temporary measure and will be kept under constant review,” the Rail Freight Group said in a statement.

Rail freight is acknowledged as a low carbon transport mode, emitting 76% less carbon dioxide than road freight even with use of diesel locomotives. Rail freight operators are committed to further decarbonization, and measures to increase sustainability.

Energy prices in the UK have risen significantly in recent months due to several factors including increased demand following Covid-19. The situation is not restricted to the UK – other countries in Europe and Asia-Pacific are also impacted.

The increase in energy prices is not currently affecting franchised passenger operators in the UK because they buy their electric power from Network Rail on a fixed contract basis.

A Network Rail spokesman added, “Electricity costs for Network Rail and passenger operators were negotiated some time ago and are fixed for this year and most of next. A few operators, however, are subject to the current market wholesale price of electricity that Network Rail passes on directly at cost. Despite this, rail remains the most carbon efficient means of moving large quantities of both freight and people around the country.”