HomeEnvironmentEditorial: Getting net zero done

Editorial: Getting net zero done

Listen to this article

The UN Climate Change Conference, to be held in Glasgow in November, will be attended by over 30,000 delegates and 200 heads of state and shall be the largest summit that the UK has ever hosted. Britain’s hosting of this conference is due to its environmental credentials, which include reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 44 per cent since 1990 and setting a net-zero carbon by 2050 target.

This target was set after a net zero report by the Committee for Climate Change (CCC) explained how it could be achieved. Yet little is heard of the CCC report or its recommendations, which included the need for all government departments to have strong emissions reductions policies.

An unfortunate example of this lack of an emissions policy is the DfT’s Rail Network Enhancement Pipeline document, which doesn’t mention carbon nor consider it to be an investment priority. Moreover, whilst the CCC report recommends extensive electrification, there are just 24 route kilometres of electrification enhancement schemes in this pipeline document.

This compares with 4,250 route kilometres that the rail industry’s Final Report to the Rail Minister on Decarbonisation, published by the Rail Industry Decarbonisation Taskforce and RSSB, states may be necessary for rail to achieve zero carbon. Yet even this report does not emphasise the need for such large-scale electrification until this figure is mentioned on page 34. Instead, it concluded that a judicious mix of electrification, battery and hydrogen technology was required to achieve net zero and referred to a further Traction Decarbonisation Network Strategy study which will quantify the amount of electrification required. This strategy is due to be finalised in October, over two and a half years since the decarbonisation report was commissioned.

Although a detailed study of decarbonisation options is required, it should not take this long to decide immediate electrification requirements. This is an urgent issue as, unless further electrification is authorised soon, experienced teams will be disbanded with resultant cost increases for future programmes.

This month’s magazine considers the traction mix needed to achieve net zero and concludes that the amount of electrification required would require a 30-year electrification rolling programme of about 150 route kilometres a year. This is similar to the figure in the decarbonisation report. Our study also assessed traffic carried by each traction type to determine their contribution to emissions reductions. This shows that, for a net-zero railway, electrification must make the greatest contribution, hydrogen will provide some reductions and batteries offer only a minor role.

We explain why only alternatives to such large-scale electrification are accepting the performance penalties of hydrogen traction for services requiring high traction power or retaining diesels with little further rail decarbonisation. This is because electric trains offer the only zero carbon transport for freight, mass transit and high-speed passenger flows. Hence, of all transport sectors, rail decarbonisation is the most straightforward.

Of course, it is not just trains for which carbon reductions are required. For construction plant, recent developments in battery technology offer significant potential for decarbonisation as Nigel Wordsworth describes. Delivering electrification in a cost-effective manner is essential if it is to be affordable. As Peter Stanton describes, computer modelling and empirical trials have increased the permissible OLE gradient at Steventon bridge. This potentially eliminates the need for future bridge reconstructions.

Reliability is one of the many advantages offered by electric trains. Although new trains are generally more reliable, their introduction can be problematic. Malcolm Dobell explains why in his report on a recent IMechE Railway Division seminar on introducing new train fleets.

The reliability of the half million assets that comprise Network Rail’s signalling system is the subject of Paul Darlington’s feature, which offers a back-to-basics explanation of signalling and explains why its reliability is improving. Another feature describes cyber-security measures to protect data and prevent malicious attacks on signalling and other systems. Precautions against hacking are also considered by Alex Stewart in his feature on the use of data and digital services to offer passengers seamless end-to-end journeys.

We also feature various innovations for infrastructure work. Grahame Taylor describes the many benefits offered by TIGER, a permanent way works management system that uses iPads instead of paper. He also reports on an innovative kit conversion that has produced a machine that can travel by rail and caterpillar track and uses mining industry techniques to transfer spoil away from excavations. Adapting kit for challenging jobs is also the subject of Graeme Bickerdike’s report which explains how rock drills were positioned at inaccessible locations up to 21 metres above track level in the deep approach cuttings to Pembroke tunnel.

Applying new technologies and processes to help build a more resilient railway is considered by Nick King, Network Rail’s director of Network Services. As he makes clear, the railway must face the threat of climate change.

It is to be hoped that Britain will present credible plans to meet this challenge at the UN climate change conference in November and that these will include a rolling railway electrification programme.

David Shirres BSc CEng MIMechE DEM
David Shirres BSc CEng MIMechE DEMhttp://therailengineer.com

Rolling stock, depots, Scottish and Russian railways

David Shirres joined British Rail in 1968 as a scholarship student and graduated in Mechanical Engineering from Sussex University. He has also been awarded a Diploma in Engineering Management by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

His roles in British Rail included Maintenance Assistant at Slade Green, Depot Engineer at Haymarket, Scottish DM&EE Training Engineer and ScotRail Safety Systems Manager.

In 1975, he took a three-year break as a volunteer to manage an irrigation project in Bangladesh.

He retired from Network Rail in 2009 after a 37-year railway career. At that time, he was working on the Airdrie to Bathgate project in a role that included the management of utilities and consents. Prior to that, his roles in the privatised railway included various quality, safety and environmental management posts.

David was appointed Editor of Rail Engineer in January 2017 and, since 2010, has written many articles for the magazine on a wide variety of topics including events in Scotland, rail innovation and Russian Railways. In 2013, the latter gave him an award for being its international journalist of the year.

He is also an active member of the IMechE’s Railway Division, having been Chair and Secretary of its Scottish Centre.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.