RIA launches strategic vision for 2050 rail network

The Rail Industry Association has launched a new strategic vision for 2050 that calls for accelerated electrification and more battery powered trains for the Great Britain network.

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At present, 38 per cent of the GB network across England, Scotland and Wales is electrified. Current government plans will increase this to 51 per cent over the next decade or so. However, the RIA claims that boosting this figure to 65 per cent with selected routes could decarbonise every passenger journey and 95 per cent of freight journeys by 2050.

Central to the RIA’s strategy is the roll out of battery electric trains. These can be used to phase out fossil fuel-powered trains on a wide range of routes right now, improving air quality and service while reducing the carbon intensity of rail services. According to the RIA, around a third of the network does not require electrification and can be decarbonised with new fleets of battery electric trains in the short term, providing a shot in the arm for the UK rail manufacturing sector.  

“Our analysis provides an ‘art of the possible’ strategy for the government and the railway industry,” David Clarke, RIA technical director said in a statement. “Ordering a fleet of battery-electric trains, a strategic and a consistent approach to electrification and quick green wins on less intensively used routes can all help achieve a more efficient and low-carbon railway by 2050. Considering this as a ‘track and train’ strategy allows us to permanently lower the cost of running the railway.”

Expanding rail travel while nudging passengers away from private car journeys and carbon-intensive flights can help the UK hit its net zero targets. According to the RIA, passenger numbers for the rail sector could almost double by 2050, but the policy and infrastructure must be in place to facilitate that growth, making rail travel an attractive green alternative to other modes of transport.

“Recent RIA-commissioned research by Steer found that passenger numbers will grow between 37 per cent and 97 per cent by 2050, depending on future rail policy,” said Clarke.

“So, it is vital that the government now makes some decisions on infrastructure and rolling stock which will enable investors, rail planners and suppliers, as well as the wider rail economy, to deliver a better and more sustainable railway for passengers and taxpayers in the future.”