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The Government must electrify more rail lines to meet net zero target

Andrew Allen's picture
photo by R~P~M via Flickr

The announcement that the Government intends to legislate for net zero emissions by 2050 has far reaching consequences for the transport sector. As the largest source of greenhouse gases, emissions from the sector rose between 2013 and 2017 and are higher now than they were in 1990. Meeting a net zero target will require concerted action on transport, and not just by swapping petrol and diesel road vehicles for electric ones. 

Our latest research shows that efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution from transport are likely to stall unless rail electrification schemes are resumed as part of the Government's plans to achieve net zero.

Rail is currently the greenest major form of transport releasing up to 85 per cent less carbon emissions per passenger kilometre. Growth in rail travel has supported a reduction in carbon emissions, but the Government's cancellation of a series of electrification projects - most recently in 2017 when it scrapped plans to electrify the Midland Main Line to Nottingham and Sheffield, the Great Western Main Line between Cardiff and Swansea, and the Lakes Line between Oxenholme and Windermere - is undermining this and making it more difficult to achieve the net zero target.

The Government simply cannot meet its climate change commitments with its current plans for the railway. Rail is a very sustainable form of transport and should be at the centre of the wider efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve air quality. The ongoing Rail Review needs to establish environmental goals as a key objective for the railways. Making that a reality requires an early commitment to restarting an electrification programme.

We have submitted our research to the William’s Review Team and will be pressing Government to commit to establishing a rolling programme of electrification to help the UK meet its new net zero target.

Photo courtesy of R~P~M via Flickr

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