Industry calls for UK government to decarbonise rail by 2040

HSRG calls for UK government to decarbonise rail by 2040 to secure net-zero.

The High Speed Rail Group (HSRG) has called on the UK government to commit to decarbonising Britain’s railways by 2040 by making a “transformative investment” in a national high speed rail network.  

Responding to the department for transport’s consultation Decarbonising Transport: Setting the Challenge, HSRG has outlined how as a new, zero carbon transport spine for Britain, HS2 is central to the development of the government’s transport decarbonisation plan, recognising its potential to transform travel patterns and reduce emissions across the network. 

In order to achieve the government’s net zero targets, the HSRG says it must commit to the decarbonisation of the rail network by 2040. 

This, say the HSRG, could be achieved through the creation of “a world class public transport system consisting of a national high speed rail spine, made up of a core network of dedicated high speed lines integrated with upgraded, electrified and digitally signalled lines, reaching all regions and major cities, and starting with HS2’s extension to Scotland by 2032.”

By providing infrastructure for cycling and in particular e-bikes, the HSRG says it should be possible to establish a fully integrated low carbon long distance journeys. Demonstrative of this, design specification for HS2 trains includes a requirement for on train cycle storage to allow charging of e-bikes.

HSRG’s submission also makes clear that high speed rail must become the longer distance mode of choice for travellers, in particular the ever-growing leisure travel segment. There must be a focus on personal mileage, not trip numbers, when assessing carbon emissions in order to shift longer distance, and more carbon intensive, travel to rail- most notably domestic aviation. 

At present, almost half of surface transport emissions come from trips over fifteen miles, whilst nearly a quarter of emissions from 50+ mile trips. As such, HSRG have called on the government to publish an interurban or national Future of Mobility strategy to orchestrate innovation for this longer distance travel, and that rail freight must also be considered within this category. 

With the freed-up capacity created by HS2, the HSRG says that ambitious targets should be set to shift freight from road to rail, starting with a doubling of rail freight mileage when HS2 opens in 2030.

Commenting on the submission, a HSRG spokesperson said: “High Speed Rail Group’s submission to the government’s transport decarbonisation plan makes clear that HS2, and a wider national high speed rail network, has an essential role ahead if we are to reduce emissions in line with the Paris Climate Agreement.

“As such, we are calling on the government to make high speed rail a central plank of their transport decarbonisation strategy, setting more ambitious carbon targets than those currently in place, including decarbonisation of the whole rail network by 2040. 

“As a new transport spine for Britain able to operate on zero carbon electricity, HS2 will be transformative for longer journeys, including the increasing number of leisure trips which, when made by car, are particularly carbon intensive. When one considers that almost two thirds of emissions from these longer (50 miles +) trips are for leisure or visiting friends and family, it dispels any notion that HS2 will only benefit business travellers, as some critics have sought to suggest. 

“Whilst day to day commuting may reduce as a result of Covid-19, a desire to meet face to face with friends and family will not, and as such it is more important than ever that the department for transport sets out plans to address these longer distance emissions.”

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