Although rail travel is reduced in the short term, modal shift to rail is essential to protect the environment and address social issues whilst growing our economy. The capacity of the rail network must be doubled to achieve this.
Wednesday is transport day at COP26 but campaigners are angry that rail seems to have been left off the agenda. The Government solution to zero emission vehicles seems to be road, road, road, battery, battery, battery.
An open letter to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, signed by more than 15 industry, business and campaign groups including Railfuture, urges the Government to begin an immediate programme of rail electrification now.
Thirteen programmes, with an emphasis on electrification, which Network Rail would progress urgently as part of the Project Speed initiative announced by the Prime Minister on 30 June 2020, have been revealed in the specialist rail media. Midland Main Line Upgrade. Image by Network Rail.
Reducing the cost of operating rail services and meeting the government's zero carbon objectives for transport require a sustainable electrification programme for Britain’s railways using a mix of technologies including overhead wiring, third rail, battery and hydrogen. Tyne and Wear Metro battery electric locomotive running under the wires at Whitley Bay.
The government cut electrification projects in favour of alternative technologies for rail traction but in response to the Transport Select Committee, the Rail Industry Association has published the Electrification Cost Challenge report showing that electrification costs could be cut by more than 50%. This briefing explains how the alternatives stack up. Proposed hydrogen-powered "Breeze" conversion of class 321. Image by Alstom.
Briefing by Ian Brown CBE FCILT, Railfuture Policy Director, on the effects of climate change and the need for investment in rail to provide sustainable transport which will help to reduce climate change. Image by iStock.
10:10, the climate change charity, is working with the Energy Futures Lab at Imperial College, London, to develop a viable solution for solar-powered railways. The graphic by 10:10 Climate Action illustrates the principle. It is ironic that the artist has depicted a diesel unit but we like the picture so used it anyway.
Railfuture has long campaigned for much of Britain’s railway to be electrified, not as an end in itself but because of the benefits it can bring to passengers (and also freight users). Electrification fell out of favour in the early 1990s but came back around 2009 partly thanks to the lobbying of Railfuture’s distinguished Vice President Adrian Shooter. However, Network Rail’s inability to deliver the government’s challenging programme of electrification, not least because vital skills and experience including project management had been lost, is a major set-back. Electrifying the Gospel Oak to Barking line has been a Railfuture aspiration for a long time. Pictured above is a stanchion minus overhead wires at South Tottenham station on the GOBLIN line, where the electrification work overran. Photo by Jerry Alderson.
On 20 July 2017, Transport Secretary Chris Grayling shocked rail campaigners and stakeholders by announcing that planned electrification of the Midland Main Line north of Kettering, the Great Western Main Line west of Cardiff, and Oxenholme to Windermere is cancelled. Photo Network Rail.
Britain needs to invest in its transport infrastructure to promote economic growth, but further electrification delays show that Network Rail does not have the capability to deliver its expansion programme in the timescale needed. Railfuture analyses the cause of the problems at Network Rail and suggests a way forward.
Electric trains are cheaper to operate than diesel - the purchase costs are lower, they are more energy-efficient, more reliable, and cost less to maintain. They produce less pollution than all the alternative forms of traction, and offer the possibility of zero emissions if electricity is generated sustainably. Electrification is the only way to provide the additional capacity needed to accommodate rail travel growth without increasing operating costs and therefore requiring government subsidy.
Progress on electrification has almost stopped. A rolling programme of incremental electrification projects, at a level which the industry can resource, is essential for Network Rail to build the electrification skills and experience needed to reduce the capital cost to viable levels. This should focus on intensively used or high speed routes where the journey time savings, increased reliability, lower operating costs and reduced emissions will justify the capital spend.
The alternatives to full electrification have a place on lightly used routes where electrification is not financially justified – see our analysis of the electric alternatives.
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