UK Transport Committee report urges government to speed up rail electrification

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The UK Transport Committee has urged the government to change its approach towards backing specific technology solutions to decarbonize the UK’s transport sector, including rail, or risk failing its targets for cutting emissions.

The Government has set several targets to decarbonize different sections of the transport sector over the next 30 years. Its Transport Decarbonisation Plan includes the aim to create a net zero rail network by 2050, for example.

But, according to the Transport Committee, the Department for Transport (DfT) has chosen to take a neutral stance on which technologies it believes industry should focus on developing, for those carbon-cutting targets to be achievable.

In its ‘Fuelling the Future’ report, published on March 2, the cross-party committee makes recommendations on several modes of transport, including rail, whilst urging the government to move beyond its “deliberately technology agnostic” mindset, as stated in its 2019 Technology Innovation Strategy.

For rail, the report urges ministers to speed up progress with electrifying the UK’s railways lines. Just 38% of the rail network is fully electrified, yet the government committed in 2018 to removing all diesel-only trains by 2040, including freight.

The report also recommends that DfT publish a long-term strategy for decarbonizing the rail network, with a vision for what proportion of the future network will use electrification, supplemented by hydrogen, battery-powered and bi-mode or tri-mode traction trains.

This is in recognition of suggestions that it may not be economical to electrify every railway in isolated areas of the country. The new strategy should be supported by appropriate costings and a credible delivery plan with targets and milestones.

Transport Committee chair Iain Stewart MP said: “The committee heard time and again from experts that the government’s solution-neutral approach was understandable up to a point. But the time has now come for ministers, using the knowledge of alternative fuels we now have across all modes of transport, to show leadership and pick winners.

“We also strongly urge the government to crack on with projects for electrifying train lines throughout the UK, or identify alternative lower-carbon motive power solutions where full electrification is not economically viable.”