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Investing in a Greener Rail Network

It’s well established that rail is an environmentally friendly mode of transport, certainly compared with road and air. That applies whether you are considering emissions, noise, air quality or use of space. What’s important now is to build on that positive story to make the rail network even greener. That way it will make a bigger impact on meeting net carbon zero targets.

If we wind the clock forward to 2030 there will be no new petrol and diesel cars for sale in the UK. The transformation to electric vehicles may come even sooner as manufacturers phase out model lines and replace them with the electric or hybrid-only ranges that they will still be able to sell after the cut-off.

At the same time as we have more electric vehicles on our roads it would seem strange if large sections of the rail network were still relying on diesel power. According to ORR figures, 38% of the UK mainline rail network is electrified. The goal of creating a greener rail network must include a significant increase in this percentage.

Expanding the Electrified Rail Network

Upgrades to rolling stock to include features such as LED lighting and optimised ventilation systems will help reduce emissions, as would innovations such as battery and hydrogen-powered trains. But the potential impact is dwarfed by the opportunities of extending the electrified network – particularly in the short to medium term.

Alongside expansion there has to be focus on the existing infrastructure. Much of the distribution system is old and struggling to cope with increasing demand. There’s an urgent need to replace substations and switchgear with modern, efficient and reliable plant to keep the network on the move.

This all adds up to a lot of activity to plan and coordinate. The capabilities needed go beyond technical competence – that is just the baseline. Expanding and upgrading the electrified rail network in a way that minimises disruption calls for experience in working in live environments and meticulous project management to ensure that work can be completed within tightly controlled possessions.

Multi-disciplinary expertise is also needed to rapidly assemble teams with the necessary specialist skills when, for example, bridge heights need to be raised.

The other key to improving efficiency and minimising disruption is to achieve a more holistic view of assets so that upgrades can be incorporated with other work streams. Frameworks and long-term partnerships between rail operators, contractors and supply chains are the best way to ensure that accurate asset condition data is collated and shared. That way we can achieve the maximum environmental impact for every pound invested.

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