RailDecarb21 is RIA's campaign to highlight the work rail is ready to deliver to decarbonise and support the UK Government in achieving its targets of removing all diesel-only trains off the network by 2040, and reaching Net Zero by 2050.

The campaign is calling for a specific commitment to decarbonise the rail network from Government, through further electrification work and fleet orders of low carbon, self-powered rolling stock, ahead of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) taking place in Glasgow in November 2021.

About RailDecarb21

Rail is a low carbon mode of transport, contributing just 1.4% of transport emissions despite carrying 10% of all journeys. Rail accounts for only 0.5% of all UK emissions.

Following the Coronavirus pandemic, getting passengers and freight back onto the rail network will ensure our railways continue to support low carbon travel, whilst also creating jobs, investment and economic growth. However, to achieve the UK Government's legal commitment to Net Zero by 2050 and its aim to take all diesel-only trains off the rail network by 2040, further action will be needed.

The interim Traction Decarbonisation Network Strategy (TDNS) published by Network Rail shows that to achieve Net Zero, the 15,400 kilometres of currently unelectrified railway lines in the UK will require decarbonising by:
  • 11,700 kilometres to be electrified;
  • 900 kilometres for hydrogen trains;
  • 400 kilometres using battery trains; and
  • 2,300 kilometres where multiple options are available.

Electrification has a patchy record of delivery. It’s time to invest in a rolling programme which will speed up delivery, drive down costs and hold to account those who do not deliver to time or budget.

We know that the Government is keen to encourage the development of hydrogen power and ask that the decarbonisation plan is flexible enough to include alternative and new technologies. To help, our research and development capabilities must be properly supported and funded.

Huw Merriman, Chair, Parliament's Transport Committee

Decarbonisation of the rail network will therefore involve both further electrification and the introduction of low carbon, self-powered rolling stock, such as battery and hydrogen. Crucially, the UK needs to start decarbonising now, as both infrastructure and rolling stock projects take time to deliver. Trains have an average 30-year life, meaning rolling stock we commission today may still be on the network in 2050. 

In the run up to the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow – COP26 – the UK Government has the opportunity to show its leadership on a global stage by taking steps to decarbonise the rail network, creating green jobs and investment in the process.

RIA's Key Asks

38% of the UK rail network is electrified - much less than comparable European countries which are typically 60% or more electrified. Electrified railways have been shown to benefit passengers and the wider travelling public as it is:

  • Better for the environment, with carbon emissions 60% lower than those from diesel trains today and 80% less with the estimated 2040 grid mix; they also produce no air pollutants at the point of use;
  • Quieter, reducing noise pollution for those living and working near the tracks and reduces noise and vibration for passengers;
  • Costs less in the long term when compared to the whole-life costs of diesel services;
  • Improves journey times due to superior braking and acceleration;
  • Is lighter, meaning less wear to the track and therefore less maintenance;
  • Reduces passenger delays, as electric trains are more reliable than diesel trains; and
  • The only decarbonisation technology suitable for freight trains and faster passenger trains (above 100mph).

As shown by RIA’s Electrification Cost Challenge report, electrification in the past has been delivered in peaks and troughs of work, providing the industry with a significant amount of work over a few years, followed by a cliff-edge in activity. This has led to higher costs as the sector is unable to retain the skills and expertise as shown by the cost increases on the Great Western Electrification Programme.

A rolling programme of electrification could reduce costs by up to 50% compared to some past problem projects, as shown by RIA's Electrification Cost Challenge report



There are parts of the network where electrification will not be a cost-effective solution and where technologies like hydrogen and battery will have a role. The industry has demonstrated its ability to offer these new technologies, with a number of rail suppliers working on low carbon rolling stock solutions.

A fleet order of new rolling stock would stimulate a new industrial sector, creating and retaining jobs and intellectual property in the UK whilst accelerating the decarbonisation of the network and supporting future exports. There is an opportunity for UK rail to become a global leader in battery and hydrogen technologies, with rail demand helping to create the UK market necessary to stimulate growth and kick start the zero carbon economy.


Show your support

 You can show your support for RailDecarb21 on social media using: #RailDecarb21 and by using our supporters' social media card.

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Latest Activity

Rail industry responds to 'piecemeal' Integrated Rail Plan

Posted on 18/11/2021
RIA has welcomed the investment in the network, but said the Plan provides a 'piecemeal' approach to rail investment

Zero carbon trains at COP26 show UK green transport capability

Posted on 11/11/2021
RIA has highlighted the UK's capability to deliver a green railway as two zero carbon trains have been on display.

Autumn Budget and Spending Review - missed opportunity to unleash potential of rail

Posted on 27/10/2021
Read RIA's response to the Autumun Budget and Spending Review 2021 announced by the Chancellor Rishi Sunak.

RIA asks Government to publish Rail Network Enhancements Pipeline urgently, on two year milestone

Posted on 21/10/2021
Two years after the RNEP was last updated, RIA has urged the Government to give suppliers visibility of the enhancements pipeline.

Spending Review: Unleash potential of the railways to help build back better

Posted on 19/10/2021
RIA has published its submission to the Spending Review 2021, which sets out six key actions to support the UK railway industry.

Rail industry responds to Net Zero Strategy

Posted on 19/10/2021
RIA has responded to the Government's Net Zero Strategy

RIA: The UK is electrifying its railway at less than half the rate needed to decarbonise by 2050

Posted on 14/10/2021
The UK is electrifying at less than half the rate required to meet its Net Zero targets.

Garic demonstrate drive to decarbonise, with visit from local MP

Posted on 06/09/2021
RIA hosted a Fellowship Programme visit to Garic with Bury MP and CEN Public Transport Champion Christian Wakeford.

Rail Industry welcomes publication of Hydrogen Strategy; urges hydrogen train fleet order

Posted on 17/08/2021
RIA has welcomed the publication of the Government's Hydrogen Strategy and urged the sign off for a hydrogen train fleet order.

Lee Anderson MP: Rail Decarbonisation can support businesses like Van Elle

Posted on 16/08/2021
As part of the Rail Fellowship Programme, Lee Anderson MP has called for rail decarbonisation to support businesses like Van Elle in his constituency.

We need to decarbonise rail today

Posted on 02/08/2021
An article first published in Prospect Magazine on the need to decarbonise rail.

House of Lords Committee calls for accelerated rail electrification and battery trains

Posted on 27/07/2021
The House of Lords Science and Technology has backed RIA's RailDecarb21 asks to deliver a low carbon railway.

Rail industry welcomes Transport Decarbonisation Plan

Posted on 14/07/2021
RIA's response to the Government's Transport Decarbonisation Plan

Railway industry welcomes Public Accounts Committee support for rail decarbonisation

Posted on 07/07/2021
RIA's response to the Public Accounts Committee's Report into the English rail system.

Hydrogen Train Briefing

Posted on 23/06/2021

Rail industry calls for hydrogen train fleet commitment in upcoming strategy

Posted on 23/06/2021
RIA has published a briefing on hydrogen trains, urging the Government to support the industry and commit to a fleet order.

G7: UK can show international leadership by taking decisions on railway decarbonisation this year

Posted on 11/06/2021
The Railway Industry Association calls for specific action on rail decarbonisation from Government to meet climate ambitions.

RIA welcomes Government positive words for rolling programme of electrification

Posted on 18/05/2021
A question in the House of Lords by Lord Faulkner has seen the Government respond positively to the prospect of further electrification work

RIA welcomes Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s positive remarks on Midland Mainline Electrification

Posted on 26/04/2021
RIA's response to the Prime Minister's remarks on BBC Radio Derby on electrifying Midland Mainline.

Railway industry urges Government to begin programme of rail electrification now

Posted on 22/04/2021
RIA and 17 rail organisations have today released a report showing that without electrification work the Government will miss its Net Zero targets.

Why Rail Electrification? Report

Posted on 21/04/2021

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