The rail sector has also begun to recognise the need to decarbonise through improved energy efficiency, new power sources and modal shift.

The final report by the UK’s Rail Industry Decarbonisation Task Force (July 2019) responded to the UK Minister for Rail’s challenge to the industry to remove “all diesel only trains off the track by 2040” and to “produce a vision for how the rail industry will decarbonise”.

This final report confirmed the UK rail industry’s desire to lead the way in Europe on the drive to decarbonise. It set out the key building blocks required to achieve the vision that the rail industry can be a major contributor to the UK government’s target of net zero carbon by 2050, emphasising that “significant decarbonisation by 2050 can only be achieved with a balanced and judicious mix of cost-effective electrification, coupled with the deployment of targeted battery and hydrogen technology where these are the best solution”.

Rail is a naturally low-carbon transport mode, comprising less than 2.5% of total transport emissions and only about 0.6% of the UK’s total emissions. The industry has been focused on reducing those emissions. It has considered trains that might operate in lower-carbon modes, such as diesel-electric hybrids. However, these are incremental improvements. At the rate they are being adopted in the current policy, financial, and operational environment, they will not deliver change anywhere near fast enough.

The report recommended to Government that a clear periodic 5-year research plan should be developed and reflected within the UK’s Rail Technical Strategy. The research was recommended to examine:

• freight and yellow plant decarbonisation;
• increasing the capabilities of battery and hydrogen, including through developing appropriate infrastructure
and reducing whole system costs;
• increasing efficiency of both current and future rolling stock as well as infrastructure; and
• increasing the ability to model and measure system wide carbon emissions, arising from both operational and capital works.

To support the decarbonisation of the rail industry, we believe our technology could be deployed with two roles in mind. The development of new capital projects such as HS2 could utilise our power systems in its construction rather than diesel generators; this builds upon the recommendations of the UK’s Rail Industry Decarbonisation Task Force, that said “to the extent possible, yellow machines – both dedicated on-track and road/rail – should seek to replace diesel engines with electric motors at the earliest economic opportunity. These are to be powered from appropriate energy storage and pantographs or other acceptable power sources”.

Whilst there are already credible options to decarbonise property in rail, namely stations and depots through the use of renewable energy generation, battery storage, draught exclusion, LED lighting and energy control systems, we also believe there is a market for the use of our technology for further emission reductions – particularly in the charging of vehicles and equipment, including construction compounds.

Longer-term, there will be the continued development of non-diesel trains, including those directly powered by hydrogen. The UK’s first-ever hydrogen hybrid train ran on the UK mainline at the end of September 2020; this was matched by a Government commitment that the trains “will also be available by 2023 to retrofit current in-service trains to hydrogen, helping decarbonise the rail network and make rail journeys greener and more efficient”. This in turn will provide supply chain opportunities which our collaboration with Ricardo will look to explore.