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Trains fit for the future: Transport Committee returns to rail inquiry

22 October 2020

The Transport Committee is returning to its inquiry, Trains fit for the Future, to investigate what action should be taken to reduce the rail industry’s reliance on diesel-only trains and how electric, hydrogen and battery power can be deployed to achieve this goal.

Less reliance on diesel

The UK’s transport sector has a key role to play in the Government’s legal requirement to achieve ‘net zero’ greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. While rail is a relatively low-carbon form of transport, the Government has pledged to remove diesel-only trains from the rail network by 2040 and challenged the rail industry to bring forward ideas.

Decarbonisation Plan

For rail freight, current alternatives to overhead electrification such as hydrogen and battery do not have sufficient power to pull heavy freight trains. Bi-modes have the potential to reduce emissions but there is currently no strategy for decarbonising this sector.

The Department for Transport’s Decarbonisation Plan is expected to set out how government, business and society will deliver the emissions reduction across every mode of transport. Originally due to be published this Autumn, the Department for Transport’s Permanent Secretary, Bernadette Kelly, recently told the Public Accounts Committee that publication in January 2021 was a more realistic timeframe.

Chair's comments

Chair of the Transport Committee, Huw Merriman MP, said:

“We are returning to this inquiry as the transport sector is working on some really exciting innovations to help meet the UK’s net zero carbon commitment. As we move away from diesel-only trains, we should look carefully at the alternatives. Hydrogen, battery, electrification – all present opportunities to re-evaluate our rail network with decarbonisation a prime consideration.

“The Transport Committee was one of the six commissioning committees of Climate Assembly UK. In their final report, Assembly Members gave strong support for improved public transport including Government investment in low carbon trains and buses. Rail might play a small part in the sector’s contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, but with surface transport accounting for 70% of the UK’s total greenhouse gas emissions and 23% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions overall, it is vital that the sector looks at this issue from every angle.”

Challenge of alternative fuels explored

The Committee’s inquiry into Trains fit for the Future was first launched by the predecessor committee in April 2019 and took written evidence. Plans to revive it early in this Parliament were delayed by the arrival of the pandemic.

The Committee will hold evidence sessions following the October recess. MPs will explore the challenges of deploying alternatively fuelled rolling stock on the UK rail network, hearing from service and equipment suppliers as well as passenger and freight rail operators.

The Transport Committee was one of six commissioning committees of Climate Assembly UK, which considered how the UK could meet its target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The Assembly’s report, The Path to Net Zero, published in September 2020. Assembly members strongly supported government investment in low carbon buses and/or trains as one of 18 considerations that they would like government and Parliament to bear in mind when looking at surface transport and the path to net zero.

Further information

Image: PA