Nothing for rail decarbonisation

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With COVID-19 forecast to shrink the British economy by 11 per cent this year, Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s spending review was particularly newsworthy. As we describe this month, this included £100 billion for infrastructure investment and £2 billion for emergency rail subsidies.

It also included plans to quadruple offshore wind power capacity and provide a £1 billion fund for carbon capture and storage which is essential for net-zero-carbon electricity generation. On the roads, £1.9 billion is to be spent on chargers and incentives for battery cars. However, there was nothing for rail decarbonisation. In contrast, the Scottish government is committed to a large-scale electrification programme. Perhaps the UK government does not consider reducing rail’s carbon to be a priority, as railways already provide low carbon transport and account for only two per cent all transport emissions.

If so, this is would be a mistake, as rail’s potentially greatest contribution to UK decarbonisation is the modal shift mentioned in the DfT’s ‘Decarbonising Transport’ document. Yet, despite rail capacity being needed for this modal shift, the government has announced a £1 billion reduction in rail enhancement funding over the current five-year funding period.

As our feature ‘Selling Electrification’ argues this month, more needs to done to explain the case for railway electrification south of the border. We believe that, for most of our readers, it is self-evident that a train which takes electrical power directly from the wires to its traction motors will be more powerful and efficient than self-powered traction, and that it is wrong to suggest that innovation can change the laws of nature that make this so. Yet recent comments from politicians suggesting, for example, that research will soon make electrification old technology, indicate that the industry needs to do more to explain why electric traction offers such benefits.

Certainly, there is significant potential to reduce carbon emissions by innovation. This was shown at the recent Railway Industry Association ‘Route to Zero Carbon’ webinars. An excellent example is the use of dual-fuel technology to reduce diesel emissions as an interim measure. We also report on the Russian Railways approach to decarbonisation, which includes significant energy savings from widespread use of connected driver advisory systems (C-DAS). In another feature, Paul Darlington considers how C-DAS could benefit UK freight trains and how Class 350 EMUs are now using C-DAS in shadow mode.

Network Rail’s Traction Decarbonisation Network Strategy (TDNS) shows that large scale electrification has a good business case. Justin Moss of Siemens also explains how recent developments, including early contractor involvement, can reduce costs. Recent schemes have shown that the industry can deliver cost effective electrification, yet the UK Government’s reluctance to authorise further schemes perhaps indicates that the industry has yet to win back trust to deliver electrification to budget.

TDNS also shows that decarbonisation will require many hydrogen trains. As we explain, hydrogen rail traction is mature traction technology, ready for fleet operation in the UK from the Tees-side hydrogen hub. The spending review has funds for this hub but does not mention hydrogen trains for it. Yet it would be wise to order a small fleet soon to gain experience of this novel traction, which could replace hundreds of diesel trains due to become life-expired in the 2030s.

In her feature, Lizi Stewart of Atkins stresses that climate change challenges us to act differently. She also notes that, without the right policies, there is no change and that currently the policy gap is big. That’s certainly true for the decarbonisation of high-powered rail traction, for which electrification is the only solution. Without further electrification, train fleets in England and Wales will continue to use diesel for a high proportion of their energy and thus will remain near the bottom of the world’s railway carbon league table.

Decarbonisation was also on the packed agenda of the Railway Industry Association’s annual conference. As Clive Kessell reports, the topics covered included Covid, Brexit, exports, Network Rail, HS2, rolling stock, infrastructure, politics, and the supply chain. The supply of rails, sleepers and S&C is the subject of Nigel Wordsworth’s convoluted and sad story about recent developments, which include the potential closure a steel foundry barely ten-years old, with the loss of 150 jobs.

Clive also listened in to a teleconference held by the Minister for Rail, Chris Heaton-Harris, to ensure that he, and his department, understood issues associated with the implementation of ERTMS. One concern raised at this teleconference was the bureaucracy associated with product acceptance, for which cross acceptance might be the answer. Our feature explains why, and the challenges involved.

Acceptance of the glazing system was needed for listed building consent for the regeneration of the historic Pembroke Dock station. As we describe, the system chosen was Twinfix’s Georgian-wired polycarbonate roofing system, which enabled the glazing panels to be constructed off-site.

The latest plan for Railtex and Infrarail are for them to be co-located in Birmingham’s NEC in September next year. By then, hopefully, pandemic restrictions will have eased. If so, we at Rail Engineer very much look forward to seeing our readers then for real.

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