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November 23, 2021

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Britain axing diesel trains to meet COP26 pledge

As host of the recent COP26 climate summit, Britain’s drive to help slash global carbon emissions will involve keeping to its own target of phasing out diesel trains over the next two decades, industry bodies and observers say.

According to the latest government data, about 29 percent of the UK train fleet still runs on diesel and freight trains run almost entirely on it.

On Thursday, the government unveiled plans to electrify an additional 288 kilometers of track in a new rail strategy.

This would help “to meet the ambition of removing all diesel-only trains from the network by 2040,” the Department for Transport said.

While electric trains emit 60 percent less carbon than their diesel counterparts, only 42 percent of the UK rail network is currently electrified, according to official data.

That places the UK far behind its European neighbors, such as the Netherlands, where 76 percent of the network is electrified.

With the current surge in electricity prices, some electric-run operators have recently been forced to revert to diesel locomotives, trade body the Rail Freight Group said last month.

The RFG described the switch back to diesel as “regrettable.” But the organization insisted it was only a temporary setback.

Its director general, Maggie Simpson, highlighted a need for “more electric wires to support the investment in newer locomotives.”

Britain’s rail freight is presently 90 percent hauled by diesel engines.

“Of course, in the long term, we need to move to a decarbonized economy, so more use of electric traction is going to be a huge part of that,” Simpson said.

Train operators are taking the opportunity to transition also via hybrid models in much the same way as carmakers.

Chiltern Railways, which runs passenger services between London in southeast England and the country’s Midlands, recently announced investment in a hybrid battery-diesel train, developed by rolling stock owner Porterbrook and Rolls-Royce, the maker of aircraft engines.

As well as increasing electrification of its rail tracks, Britain is in the early stages of producing trains that can run on the renewable energy hydrogen.

French train manufacturer Alstom has announced plans to deliver the UK’s first-ever fleet of new hydrogen trains, as opposed to rolling stock that has been remodeled.


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