Cutting emissions through  the mass electrification of rail networks continues apace, with Scotland's Railway – a partnership between Network Rail Scotland and ScotRail – keen to promote the sector as a zero carbon solution to haulage pollution

With world leaders soon to arrive in Glasgow to address the growing climate crisis, Scotland’s rail industry is on a journey to decarbonise. The UK government has a commitment to achieving ‘net zero’ greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and the UK-wide rail industry has been challenged to remove all diesel trains from the network by 2040.

The Scottish Government has set an even more ambitious target for Scotland – to decarbonise domestic passenger services by 2035. While rail itself contributes just one percent to the UK’s total annual greenhouse gas emissions, the industry is strongly placed to help lead the wider economy away from its reliance on fossil fuels.
“Our industry is in the unique position of currently being the only mode of transport capable of moving both people and heavy goods using a zero-carbon solution,” explains Scotland’s Railway managing director Alex Hynes. “As a result, the railway has a huge potential role to play in the decarbonisation of the economy by providing reliable, green transport for individuals and industries.

“Last year, we moved more than four million tonnes of goods by rail. That’s the equivalent of 170,000 lorry journeys and we have ambitious plans to grow that sector in the years ahead. By investing in our network and partnering with local authorities, and other forms of public transport, we can also better integrate our services and encourage even more Scots out of their cars.”

Rail is already a key contributor to Scotland’s economic and social development supporting over 13,000 direct jobs and creating opportunities for Scottish companies and suppliers of all sizes. Scotland's Railway (a partnership between Network Rail Scotland and ScotRail) encompasses some of the most remote parts of the UK network, and some of its best-known landmarks, linking Scotland’s seven cities as well as servicing the needs of the towns and rural communities in between.
Each year more than £1bn is spent operating, maintaining, renewing and enhancing Scotland’s rail network and, as the greenest form of mass public transport, the rail industry has long been committed to electrifying Scotland’s urban centres and key commuter routes.

Since 2007, Government investment of over £8bn has been committed to electrification projects and new, greener train fleets. And in the future, more electrification work – as well as the potential development of hydrogen and battery-powered train fleets – will see even greater decarbonisation of the Scottish network.
“We are fully committed to matching the Scottish Government’s ambition to make rail more environmentally friendly and are working hard to decarbonise by 2035,” said Mr Hynes. “We increased the amount of electrification in Scotland by 25% between 2014 and 2019 through the Edinburgh-Glasgow, Stirling-Dunblane-Alloa and Shotts electrification schemes.

“The introduction of ScotRail’s new class-385 electric trains has also helped us reach the milestone of having 75% of ScotRail’s customers travelling on zero emission trains." In reality, Scotland’s Railway has been going green for six decades since the electrification of the west coast main line from Glasgow to London and the introduction of electric services to Glasgow’s North Clyde lines in the 1960s and 70s.
Throughout the decades, more schemes have seen the lines to Ayrshire and Inverclyde electrified as well as most of the Glasgow suburban network. More recently, electrification has been extended up to Stirling and Alloa and between Glasgow and Edinburgh via routes to the north and south of the cities.

Today, with most trains in Scotland’s Central Belt running under electric power lines, Scotland’s Railway has one of the largest electrified networks outside London. Over the next three years, the Barrhead and East Kilbride lines, to the south of Glasgow, will be the latest to see electric trains introduced, and planning is also underway to decarbonise the Borders railway and services in Fife.

Beyond the Central Belt, the industry is examining a range of options for removing diesel trains from the network and while some form of electrification is the most likely solution for the main lines to Inverness and Aberdeen, elsewhere more innovative options may be employed. For the Far North line to Wick and Thurso, the Kyle-of-Lochalsh line and the scenic West Highland lines to Oban and Mallaig, hydrogen or battery powered trains are likely to be the most viable options due to availability of power supplies and the impact on the landscape of overhead power cables.

And the switch to greener forms of traction is not just limited to passenger train operators – freight firms too are finding ways to go green, with more electric locomotives and moves into hydrogen, battery-powered and hydro-treated vegetable oil fuelled engines. More than 45% of freight journeys already run electric in Scotland – and even a diesel freight train is far less polluting than moving goods by road.

Alex Hynes said: “The environmental benefits of rail freight are substantial – a freight train emits just a quarter of the carbon dioxide of the equivalent road journey. We want to start conversations with Scottish businesses on how they can act now to decarbonise their supply chains through a shift to rail.

“If just 10% of Scotland’s HGV movements were switched to rail it would reduce almost as much annual CO2e as the entire rail industry emits. Rail freight has a significant role to play in the decarbonisation of the transport networks in Scotland.” 
As Scotland continue to recover from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and as Glasgow prepares to host what could be a make-or-break summit for the world’s future, the country’s railway is ready to play its part. 

“During the pandemic, rail showed its worth – keeping key workers and freight moving throughout lockdowns,” said Mr Hynes. “Scotland’s Railway will also have a vital role as we emerge from the pandemic and rise to the challenge of climate change and its impact on how we live and work.” 

This article was brought to you in association with Scotland's Railway