Transport minister Jo Johnson has given the rail industry a six-month deadline to show how it will create a low carbon railway, including taking all diesel-only trains off the track by 2040.
In a speech on Monday, Mr Johnson said that with increased travel resulting in greater carbon emissions, it is up to all sectors of the transport industry to bring about change.
He added that that the pace of innovation in the rail industry has been ‘palpably slow’ and needs to grow to match that of other transport sectors. He said: ‘I would like to see us take all diesel-only trains off the track by 2040. If that seems like an ambitious goal, it should be and I make no apology for that. After all we’re committed to ending the sales of petrol and diesel cars by 2040.’
Following the decision last year to cancel a number of electrification projects on the basis that bi-mode (diesel/electric) trains made them unnecessary, Mr Johnson said: ‘New bi-modes are a good bridging technology to other low emission futures. They are fitted with modern diesels – which we started introducing last autumn on the Great Western line – and are less polluting than the trains they replaced.'
He added that as battery technologies improve he expects to see the diesel engines in bi-modes replaced altogether, with batteries powering the train between the electrified sections of the network, or those batteries and diesel engines replaced with hydrogen units.
He said: ‘Today I am calling on the railway to provide a vision for how it will decarbonise. And I expect the industry to report back by the autumn.’
Stephen Joseph, chief executive of Campaign for Better Transport, said: ‘We welcome the Government's support for phasing out diesel trains on the rail network, but to be meaningful it needs to be supported by a long-term Government rail investment strategy to cut emissions. Yet only last year, the Government cancelled major electrification projects.
‘There are huge opportunities for decarbonising rail and an urgency in cutting pollution levels at railway stations, but without a more consistent approach, the risk is that we see old diesel trains running round the network for the next 25 years.’