Home News Features Compliance

🕒 Article read time: 2 minutes

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?


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.


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).


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.”


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


Comments Section

If you are a Logistics UK member login to add comments.

There are no comments yet.

Latest articles

London businesses need a freight commissioner, says Logistics UK

The next Mayor of London must appoint a dedicated Freight Commissioner if the capital’s businesses are to maximise their productivity and drive growth for the capital, according to business group Logistics UK.

Read time: 2 minutes

View article

Logistics UK reacts to newly published Rail Reform Bill

The Rail Reform Bill was published on Tuesday and Logistics UK’s senior policy advisor Ellis Shelton had a response.

Read time: 2 minutes

View article

Port of London Authority launches Net Zero River Plan for Thames

Last Thursday 15 February, the Port of London Authority (PLA) and a coalition of terminal and vessel operators and supporting stakeholders published a plan for a net zero future in a bid to accelerate progress towards decarbonising the Thames.

Read time: 2 minutes

View article

Next page

Policy Campaign Highlight – April 2023

E-news archive

You can also view our e-news archive here.

E-news archive

Interested in Membership?

Get in contact using the Membership Enquiry Form.

Membership Enquiry Form

Logistics Magazine Portal

The hub for finding relevant and informative features, news & compliance guides from Logistics Magazine

Logistics Magazine Portal Home

Sponsorship Opportunities

Learn more about advertising on the new digital Logistics Magazine, with a variety of advert options to reach 30,000 relevant readers.

Sponsorship Opportunities

Magazine Contents


Logistics Magazine will cover all the latest news on stories breaking in the industry, including developments on COVID-19,  Brexit, Clean Air Zones, transport law and decarbonisation.



Our frequent features will tackle the broader issues affecting logistics such as the COVID-19 vaccination programme, technology and innovation, the political and economic landscape, global trade and the drive to reduce emissions across all transport modes.



Each month we explore a different topic in depth in our popular Compliance section, while each week we will publish answers put to our Member Advice Centre team.


View Supplements and Previous Printed Editions

View Supplements and previous printed editions of Logistics Magazine here.