Scotland’s ambition to deliver a decarbonised rail network
Michael Matheson, Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity for the Scottish Parliament, explains that although Scotland’s commitment to decarbonise its passenger rail services is demanding, it is indisputably something that must be tackled to benefit future generations.
Tackling climate change is an obligation that we owe to succeeding generations. As the teenage activist Greta Thunberg has so pithily reminded us, ‘There is no Planet B’. And, as there is no alternative, it is something that we must tackle now.
Accordingly, the Scottish Government has set out plans for Scotland to transition to net-zero emissions for the benefit of our environment, our people, and our prosperity. Scotland’s world-leading climate change legislation sets a target date for net-zero emissions of all greenhouse gases by 2045, at the latest.
Stepping-up to decarbonisation
Transport is Scotland’s largest greenhouse gas emitting sector and our recent Programme for Government, which we set out in September 2019, contains actions across all modes of transport. On the roads, we are committed to phasing out new petrol and diesel cars by 2032. For aviation, we will decarbonise scheduled flights within Scotland by 2040 and aim to create the world’s first zero emission aviation region by that date. With buses, we will radically accelerate the deployment of zero emission vehicles across Scotland. And in respect of the railway, we have stepped up to the proverbial footplate and committed to decarbonise our passenger rail services by 2035, ahead of the UK’s target of 2040. At a practical level, this means that ScotRail will not use diesel traction for any of its passenger services by that date.
Moving away from a diesel railway
The change in traction energy from diesel to other sources such as electric, battery or fuel cell subsequently means substantial changes to our rail infrastructure. Our principal aim is to electrify our network. Where we cannot electrify or it is inappropriate to do so, we will invest in battery electric-powered trains and work with developers of hydrogen fuel cell powertrains to accelerate their development and deployment through practical trials in Scotland.
…we are developing with the industry an international Rail Cluster in Scotland that will become a leader in the innovation and manufacture of net zero rail products, services and solutions.
To support the development of practical, cost-effective alternatives, we are, together with the rail industry, taking forward a range of initiatives of which our research train is but one example. At the end of 2019, we withdrew a Class 314 electric train from passenger service – that train now provides Scottish-based suppliers and academia with the opportunity to experience the integration of their alternative traction power supply equipment onto a live train. This initiative is helping drive innovation within the rail supply chain and develop skills in system integration and maintenance for battery electric/fuel cell, with, of course, potential transferability of those skills and knowledge to other transport modes. Though a relatively modest initiative, it underlines our commitment to assist companies involved in the development of batteries, fuel cells, control systems and traction equipment to diversify into the rail sector. Additionally, we are developing with the industry an international Rail Cluster in Scotland that will become a leader in the innovation and manufacture of net zero rail products, services and solutions. One of the key issues is how we can reduce the cost and impact of physical electrification. With greater efficiency, we can deliver more and quicker outcomes. If you wish to engage with us on this venture, then please make contact via Transport Scotland or Scottish Enterprise.
Electrifying the network
It is important to note that, though only 28 per cent of the Scottish rail network is electrified, we have made significant progress in the past few years with electrification now activated between Edinburgh and Glasgow via Falkirk High; between Edinburgh and Glasgow via Shotts; and the routes northwards to Dunblane and Alloa. Consequently, we now have five electrified routes between Edinburgh and Glasgow – surely now the best-connected city pairing in the UK – and a staggering 75 per cent of all Scottish rail passenger journeys are currently undertaken on electric services. That figure is testament to our continued investment in electrification.
Electric trains improve journey times and are more reliable than diesel trains as they require less maintenance.
It is indisputable that electric rail delivers huge passenger and operational benefits. Electric trains improve journey times and are more reliable than diesel trains as they require less maintenance. They make less noise and result in significantly better air quality, which is particularly important in enclosed station environments, bringing benefits to cities and communities across the network.
Additionally, as we electrify the network, we will need to replace the diesel rolling stock and deliver more comfort and better on-train facilities for passengers. This investment in electrification and new trains will result in greener, faster, more reliable and more resilient rail services. This will encourage more people to use public transport and result in better connected places within Scotland and beyond.
Timescales for action
Our commitment to decarbonise our passenger rail services by 2035 is indeed challenging. However, we will set out timescales and actions for how we will meet that challenge in the spring. We welcome approaches from industry and academia to help us in delivering the achievement of our shared outcome – we must succeed in delivering that outcome, because, as we now all know, there is no Plan(et) B.