Rail industry agrees new framework to meet sustainability challenges

Image by Gonzalo Facello on Unsplash

The Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB) has launched a Sustainable Rail Blueprint, a new framework to support the UK rail industry in making efficient progress on environmental and social sustainability challenges.  

The RSSB says travelling by rail is already the most sustainable mode of long-distance transport for people and goods, being responsible for just 1.4% of the UK’s overall transport carbon emissions. 

However, there is a broader challenge for the rail industry, not just to deliver net zero but to improve its impact on the environment, local communities and society. 

The Department for Transport identified the need for a cross-industry strategy in 2020, and funded development of the blueprint—co-created with industry stakeholders and delivered by RSSB’s sustainability experts. 

The Sustainable Rail Blueprint is the rail industry’s consensus view of how rail can deliver even more across environmental and social issues. 

As the industry adapts to changes in passenger and freight demands and changes in rail usage post-pandemic, the blueprint will help inform debate and decisions on options, affordability, and practicality.  

The blueprint details policy milestones and proposed initiatives that strike a balance between ambition, practicality, and financial pressures. 

The focus is on delivering government objectives on carbon reduction, improving air quality, protecting and conserving biodiversity, resources and improving quality of life across Great Britain.  

It sets out what the rail industry needs to achieve, how it can be delivered and who needs to contribute on:  

  • 11 sustainable rail topics, across emissions, natural environment, and social sustainability. 
  • Six common solutions identified as the primary enablers of sustainable rail. 
  • The role of train operators, infrastructure managers, rolling stock owners, the supply chain, government, and regulators in delivering sustainable rail.  

The rail industry is already working to implement the blueprint. Companies are aligning their existing sustainability strategies and work plans around the aims set out in the blueprint. RSSB is leading several programmes to embed sustainability across the rail industry. 

These include a data platform to measure and monitor sustainability performance, a learning hub to develop the industry’s knowledge and capacity and integration of the blueprint across the industry’s business processes and contractual mechanisms. 

RSSB is also facilitating the industry’s sustainable rail working groups, driving collective action across a range of technical topics. 

Malcolm Brown, CEO of Angel Trains and chair of the Sustainable Rail Executive, said:  “The Sustainable Rail Blueprint is a solid example of what can be achieved through collaborative working across the GB rail industry, with a unified approach to delivering broad benefits for both the environment and society.  

“The clear roadmaps set out within the blueprint will help drive this ambitious programme forward and ensure we remain focused on affordability and practicality as we seek to make significant improvements to our operations as a whole.”

George Davies, RSSB director of sustainable development, added: “RSSB has led development of the Sustainable Rail Blueprint, co-creating it with the rail industry, for the rail industry. It’s a practical resource to shape thinking and guide action across environmental and social issues, whilst recognising the pressures our industry is under currently. 

“The Sustainable Rail Blueprint sets out what needs addressing, how it can be worked on and who needs to get involved.  Reflecting legislation and policy along with what society expects, the Blueprint brings consistency to realise an even more sustainable railway."

Click here to read the Sustainable Rail Blueprint.

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