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Keeping decarbonisation on track
If the UK is to achieve its net zero target by 2050, significant change will be needed across all industry sectors – not least in logistics.
Logistics accounts for a significant proportion of all miles travelled – and emissions created – across the country, but as the driver of the economy, cannot reduce the distances covered. So, what can be done to keep delivering for the economy while improving air quality?
RAIL LEADS THE CHARGE
Leading the way to change as an energy-efficient mode of freight transportation is rail, with each tonne of freight transported by rail producing 76% fewer carbon emissions compared to road. By carrying the equivalent of 110 lorry loads in large quantities of containerised and bulk goods such as aggregates, cement and electronics, rail freight is already reducing the need for seven million lorry journeys each year. This already results in a saving of around 1.4 million tonnes of CO2 emissions per annum. In addition, rail also provides significant economic, environmental and social benefits across the country which include time, cost savings and reliability, which can lead to lower prices for consumers.
ZERO EMISSIONS FROM ENGLAND TO SCOTLAND
As previously reported in Logistics Magazine, Varamis Rail collaborated with Network Rail to launch an innovative ‘zero-carbon’ electric freight service in January 2023, between Scotland and the Midlands. This came as a response to a high increase for online shopping and home deliveries across the UK, which in turn increased demand for a more environmentally friendly alternative to road haulage. This service will transport consumer goods using fully electric four-car trains converted for freight purposes and is targeted at express parcels and third-party delivery companies.
There have been promising breakthroughs in the use of hydrogen for rail, which is increasingly seen as a key to decarbonisation, as it pushes forward as an alternative for powering locomotives. It is supported by projects such as HydroFLEX which has been funded by the Department for Transport (DfT) and is the UK’s first hydrogen-ready passenger train, powered by hydrogen made using renewable energy sources. Unlike diesel trains, hydrogen-powered trains do not emit harmful gases, and instead use hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity, water and heat. The ground-breaking technology will enable the industry to retrofit current in-service trains to hydrogen, helping to decarbonise the rail network and make rail journeys greener and more efficient.
Electrification is another promising solution to decarbonisation that not only reduces carbon emissions, but also enhances performance, reduces journey times and improves air quality. In contrast to other forms of transportation where decarbonisation necessitates the creation of radically new power sources and systems, electrified rail transport is a fully developed, tested green technology that has been in operation for more than 60 years. By electrifying small sections of the rail network, it would enable rail freight to move away from diesel traction. Electric trains may run nearly carbon-free over greater distances without range restrictions when powered by renewable or nuclear energy delivered by overhead wires (or a third rail).
PLUGGING THE GAPS
It is estimated that only around 800 miles of electrification is needed to allow around 95% of rail freight to be electronically hauled, according to the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CILT). As it stands, however, only around one in ten freight trains in the UK is hauled by electric locomotives, largely because the infrastructure needed for wide-scale electrification is not yet in place.
“The industry needs commitment from government so that it can support rail freight growth and allow both freight and passenger trains to run more efficiently,” said Ellis Shelton, Logistics UK’s Policy Advisor (pictured above), “Logistics UK is urging government to commit to a long-term programme of electrification to enable the railway to decarbonise. Such a commitment would help to create greater capacity across the rail freight sector and support investment in new rolling stock and research into new technologies.”
ADDING VALUE TO BRITAIN’S ECONOMY
That rail freight is an indispensable part of the British economy seems in little doubt – according to Network Rail it contributes £2.45bn to the UK economy – as is its role in supporting the post-pandemic economy and long-term sustainable growth. Plus, rail provides efficient routes to markets and better connectivity to ports, allowing businesses access around the world while also importing goods and materials reliably and securely.
“However, as customers look to make the modal shift to rail there must be capacity on the rail network to accommodate this growth and costs need to be kept low to remain competitive,” Shelton said.
“Rail freight brings significant value for areas in the north of England, Scotland and Wales – where the railway has some of its busiest sections and is home to the headquarters of many freight operators. All future regulatory and contractual framework must enable continued private sector investment but also support programmes such as the Mode Shift Revenue Support (MSRS) scheme which supports freight customers in moving their goods by rail.”
Published On: 13/04/2023 16:00:27
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