This week’s poll: replacing the UK’s diesel train fleet

What is the best technology option for the government’s proposed phase-out of the diesel train in Britain by 2040?

diesel train
Arriva’s hybrid diesel-electric train, the Flirtino, which can be run as zero-emissions by using partial line electrification to charge a battery

Transport minister Jo Johnson announced yesterday that the government wants to phase out diesel trains on the UK rail network. In a speech at the British Museum, he said that ending reliance on fossil fuels is a priority for the government, both to curb carbon emissions and to improve air quality.

Taking diesel-only trains off the tracks by 2040 is an ambitious goal, he admitted. “It should be and I make no apology for that.”

Although rail is less carbon intensive than road transport, and getting freight and passenger transport off the roads and onto rail remained important, “that does not absolve the relevant street cleaning up its own act,” he said, noting that emissions from rail have increased by 33 per cent since 1990.

Bi-mode trains that can run off diesel and electric from overhead lines or third rails are an important transition technology, he said, and were introduced last autumn on the Great Western line and will come into service on the East Coast mainline this year, but as batteries improve Johnson said he expected the diesel engines of bi-modes to be replaced.

David Clarke, technical director of the Railway Industry Association, commented that he welcomed the announcement but noted that only 29 per cent of the fleet on the UK rail network is currently fuelled by diesel. “To replace these will need to install overhead power lines for electrification or use on-board energy storage and technology such as batteries or hydrogen fuel cells.”

We would like to see what our readers think would be best long-term technology option to replace diesel trains. While we accept that initially and for some time there is likely to be a mixture of technologies we would like you to vote for what you think would be the best long-term option: entire electrification (which could be via overhead lines or third rail supply systems, the latter being more practical in urban areas), on-board storage via batteries or on-board storage via hydrogen electricity being supplied by a fuel cell

As always, we encourage comments and debate in our feedback section. This will be moderated to keep discussion “on track”, if you’ll pardon the pun. Comments are particularly welcome if you choose that under the above option. We will display the results of this poll here on 20th February.