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UK railway electrification needs to ramp up to meet net zero carbon targets

The Government is not pursuing a programme of railway electrification fast enough to for the UK to meet net zero carbon targets by 2050, the Railway Industry Association (RIA) has said

According to new data published by the Office of Rail and Road (ORR), just 179km of track was electrified in the 2020-2021 period, less than half the 448km required each year to meet Network Rail’s target of a Net Zero railway by 2050, the RIA said. Ultimately, 13,000km of track needs to be electrified by 2050 to meet the targets; today, just 38 per cent of the Britain’s railways are electrified.

It’s not the first time such a criticism has been levelled about the Government’s commitment to the railway electrification programme.

In July, MPs on the Public Accounts Committee said the UK’s rail system lacks “strategic direction” for the project.

Electric trains have been estimated to emit 20-35 per cent less carbon emissions than those powered by diesel.

David Clarke, technical director of the RIA, said: “New data published today shows that the UK electrified some 179 track-kilometres in 2020-21, mostly on completing the Midland Mainline upgrade between Bedford and Corby.

“What’s more, with no major schemes coming down the line, we can reasonably expect that there will be less work, not more, in the coming year.

“The Railway Industry Association has long called for a sustainable, cost-effective programme of electrification, alongside support for battery and hydrogen-powered trains, in order to meet the Government’s Net Zero target by 2050 - an approach which was endorsed in the Government’s Transport Decarbonisation Plan in July.

“Yet, at the current rate, we are unlikely to meet that target. Crucially, the industry is also losing expertise and capabilities whilst schemes are stalled, meaning it will be harder to deliver the considerable amount of work needed if and when new projects are started.”

A Department for Transport spokesman said: “We are committed to the decarbonisation of our railways, and have electrified just under 1,000 miles of track since 2017 and over 1,200 miles since 2010.

“As set out in the Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail and our Transport Decarbonisation Plan, this Government plans to make the railways the backbone of a cleaner, more environmentally friendly and modern public transport system across the country.”

Aside from the environmental benefits gained through electrification, recent research also showed that air pollution on diesel trains can be worse than major London roads.

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