Scotland aims for rail decarbonisation by 2035


Scotland has outlined an ambition to decarbonise its rail passenger services by 2035, transport secretary Michael Matheson has revealed, but the plan is not costed yet.

The Scottish government plans to remove diesel passenger trains from service and deliver an extensive electrification programme and investment in low carbon self-powered rolling stock.

The indicative programme outlined in Transport Scotland's decarbonisation action plan presents agreements ‘in principle’ for the programme of work and does not set out detailed cost information.

That analysis has not been done yet but Transport Scotland pledged that 'in line with our financial appraisal process' it would produce costs and benefits for routes, and projects, 'which in aggregate provide more certainty at the strategic plan level'.


The plan focuses on electrification and, for some routes, the use of battery electric-powered trains.

A recent rail industry decarbonisation taskforce report said that alongside the electrification of the rail infrastructure, 'the two technologies that are likely to be sufficiently mature to make a significant decarbonisation impact (for passenger services) in the future are hydrogen and battery powered trains'.

Scottish ministers said they would work with developers of hydrogen fuel cell powertrains to accelerate their development and deployment in Scotland.

Preparatory work for the first electrification project on East Kilbride and Barrhead lines is already underway, with Anniesland/Maryhill and Borders routes also being progressed.

Early review work has also begun to assess how inter-city routes can be tackled to inform delivery programmes and funding decisions.

Mr Matheson said: 'Building on our recent strong track record of delivering electrification projects we have set out ambitious but achievable plans to decarbonise our rail passenger services by 2035, five years ahead of the UK target.'

Alex Hynes, managing director of Scotland’s Railway, said: 'Delivering on the Scottish Government’s bold and ambitious Rail Decarbonisation Action Plan is a top priority for Scotland’s Railway. We’re continually working to deliver a cleaner, greener railway for Scotland.

'Although rail is already a low-carbon mode of transport, we are committed to reducing our environmental impact ever further.

'The massive projects that have been delivered so far – the electrification of the Central Belt, new electric trains - mean more seats and faster journeys for our customers, as well as a rail service that is better for our environment. This plan will deliver even more for our passengers in the decades to come.'

'We have also greatly valued the engagement Transport Scotland and the Scottish Government have had with the rail supply community in developing this strategy. The sector looks forward to working together to deliver a green railway network, for the benefit of Scottish passengers, freight users and the wider economy.'

Malcolm Brown, Chair, Rail Industry Decarbonisation Taskforce, said: 'Last year, following extensive consultation, the Rail Industry Decarbonisation Taskforce’s recommendations as to how the rail industry would best be able to contribute to the national net zero emissions target were welcomed by the minister for rail.

'I am delighted to see that Transport Scotland’s rail decarbonisation plan builds on these recommendations and, indeed, adapts them to Scotland’s railway and wider circumstances, where there is the opportunity and the need to do so. We look forward to continued close cooperation throughout the rail industry to support rail decarbonisation throughout Great Britain.'

Rail is already a low carbon form of transport for passengers and freight. In 2017 rail accounted for 1.2% of all transport emissions in Scotland and between 2012 and 2018 (UK) emissions per passenger kilometre fell by 24% for rail compared to 8% for petrol cars, 4% for diesel cars and 10% for buses.

The Office of Rail and Road has reported that passenger train emissions were 36.6 gCO2e per passenger km (a decrease of 10.3% compared to 2017-18) and that freight train emissions were 25.3 gCO2e per tonne km (a decrease of 4.1% compared to 2017-18).

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