Trains fit for the future? Contents

2Providing a long-term strategic plan

The need for long-term certainty

19.Decarbonising the rail network over the coming 20 to 30 years will require substantial and co-ordinated public and private investment in infrastructure and rolling stock, given that these assets will be used for potentially decades. Witnesses told us that the key obstacle to delivering a decarbonised railway was uncertainty. We heard that the Government should set a clear and consistent rail decarbonisation strategy for the next 30 years. The RDG said “what we need now is a clearer long-term plan that we can all align our efforts to.”29 Angel Trains, one of the UK’s largest train leasing specialists argued that policy certainty was “essential”30 and the RSSB called for the Government to “set the direction of the industry through clear and consistent policy.”31

20.Rail industry witnesses told us that they needed long-term certainty to plan and invest in the people, infrastructure, and innovation required to decarbonise the network. The RIA told us that “providing we get a clear strategy [ … ] the industry will swing in and invest in the people, plant and process that is needed”32 The RDG and Alstom, a large rail manufacturing company, both emphasised that the wider UK supply chain also required certainty to invest in new technology, skills and products, and create highly skilled jobs.33 We heard that changes to the rail network infrastructure needed to coincide with policies to support the introduction of new rolling stock. The RDG said:

We need to make sure that we end up with a plan that aligns infrastructure change to rolling stock introduction, to skills and to the supply chain, to make sure that it is a holistic whole-industry change programme, which is what it would need to be effective.34

21.Angel Trains emphasised that long-term certainty was necessary given the long life-cycle of train carriages:

Rolling stock investment decisions we make now will directly impact upon the industry’s ability to meet [the UK’s climate targets]. New trains, procured in recent years that are now coming on to the network, will also require major refurbishments and upgrades. To finance, deliver and enhance trains that are fit for the future, we need a long-term policy and funding framework, agreed by government and industry, which provides clarity of vision and deliverable timescales.35

22.Witnesses agreed that a long-term rail decarbonisation strategy may need to change as technologies, such as battery and hydrogen, mature, and perhaps other new ones are introduced.36 We explore this in more detail in Chapter 4. Nevertheless, we heard that the need for flexibility at a later stage must be balanced against the need for a long-term strategy to provide clarity to the industry. The RIA said that “we do not have to set in stone the next 30 years; we just need to be confident about what the right first steps are that take us towards 2050.”37

Building on the TDNS

23.As described in Chapter 1, Network Rail’s TDNS sets out a long-term plan for the decarbonisation of the rail network, including mapping out recommended lines for electricity, hydrogen and battery power. The TDNS sets out five different timelines on which this can be achieved, ranging from 2040 to 2061. Several witnesses including Riding Sunbeams, Porterbrook the RIA and RDG, welcomed the plans set out in the TDNS and called for the Government to set out how it would be implemented.38 The Department is expected to respond to Network Rail’s proposals within its Decarbonisation Plan, expected this year.39

Uncertainty created by delays with the Rail Reform White Paper

24.Witnesses told us that the constant delays with the publication of the White Paper expected to arise from the Williams Rail Review was also creating uncertainty.40 The White Paper is expected to set out significant changes to the structure of the rail industry, including how rolling stock is developed and procured and the funding of research and development within the industry. These changes will have an inevitable impact on plans to decarbonise the network.

25.Giving evidence in December 2020, Chris Heaton Harris MP, the Minister for Rail, told us that “the expected scale and pace of the railway decarbonisation will be set out in a plan going forward, which we will announce shortly.”41 He confirmed that it was still the Department’s intention to remove all diesel-only trains from the network by 2040—not only passenger trains, as advocated by the Taskforce.42

26.Transport is the largest source of carbon emissions in the UK, accounting for 27% of total emissions. If the UK is to meet its 2050 net zero carbon emissions target, a concerted effort will be needed to dramatically decarbonise the transport sector, particularly surface transport. This is a considerable challenge, and it offers the UK an opportunity to become a world leader in green transport and decarbonisation technology.

27.We welcome the Department for Transport’s reaffirmation that it is committed to withdrawing all diesel-only trains by 2040—including freight trains. This will be a hugely important step in ensuring a greener, decarbonised rail network, which will be necessary for the Government to meet its legally binding net-zero target by 2050. However, it is difficult to understand how the current target framework fits together. The Taskforce and the Government have differing views on whether it is possible to remove all diesel-only trains from the network by 2040. While Scotland’s target comes five years earlier, it includes the removal of all diesel passenger trains (including hybrids) but excludes freight. The industry needs the Government to clarify its expectations on decarbonisation.

28.While we recognise the immediate challenges brought about by the coronavirus pandemic, we are concerned about the frequent delays to the publication of the Department’s Transport Decarbonisation Plan and the Rail Reform White Paper based on the Williams Review. These delays have unfortunately compounded the difficulties for the rail industry to plan and invest in the development of a carbon-free railway.

29.We recommend that the Department for Transport publishes a long-term strategy for decarbonising the rail network as a matter of priority. This should include a vision for what proportion of the future network will use electrification, battery and hydrogen. That strategy should be supported by appropriate costings, a credible delivery plan, and enabling targets and milestones. These targets and milestones should clarify how the 2040 and 2050 targets will fit together.

30.Dedicated investment over the long-term will be essential in order to meet the considerable challenge of decarbonising the rail network by 2050. There will be understandable pressures on public spending in the coming years as the country recovers from the pandemic. However, measures to decarbonise our transport sector ought to be considered a Government priority.

31.We call on the Department to work closely with other Government departments, including the Treasury, to secure agreement for the levels of funding necessary to begin implementing a long-term decarbonisation programme of the rail network.

29 Q43 [Mark Gaynor]

30 Angel Trains (TFF0016)

31 RSSB (TFF006)

32 Q4 [David Clarke]

33 Q58 [Mark Gaynor], Alstom (TUF0008)

34 Q53 [Mark Gaynor]

35 Angel Trains (TFF0016)

36 Q27 [Mary Grant, Leo Murray, David Clarke]

37 Q6 [David Clarke]

38 Q45 [Mark Gaynor]

39 Department for Transport, Decarbonising Transport: Setting the Challenge, March 2020

40 Q40 [Mary Grant], Alstom (TUF0008) Rail Delivery Group (TFF0021)

41 Q126 [Chris Heaton-Harris MP]

42 Q147 [Chris Heaton-Harris MP]

Published: 23 March 2021 Site information    Accessibility statement