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Decarbonising rail in the North

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Sambit Banerjee, Managing Director, Rolling Stock & Customer Services – Siemens Mobility Limited, says electrified rail and self-powered trains are essential if the North is to meet its climate targets

Transport for the North (TfN) has a decarbonisation strategy aimed at accelerating towards a zero-carbon transport network by 2045. The approach being taken is the right one – looking at decarbonising the railway as a whole system, and deciding on the best solution for each area, including trains, track and signalling, and the latest innovations.

The decarbonisation plan is ambitious. Is it do-able? The answer is yes – but only if government and the transport industry work collaboratively and quickly. We know that electrification programmes take time, and the cycle for getting new trains on the network is about five to seven years, so the time to act is now.

At Siemens Mobility, our analysis shows that to meet the decarbonisation targets we have to increase electrification rates to 300+ miles per year, and introduce hybrid trains. Using data produced by the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) and Network Rail, we calculated that the current railway electrification proposals could take until 2060 and beyond to complete. This would mean leaving diesel trains on the network for more than 10 years after the UK’s legislative net zero date.

Long-term commitment

We believe that a commitment to electrifying a minimum of 300 miles of the rail network every year until 2050 is necessary. This would provide full or discontinuously electrified routes to enable the introduction of new electric trains. To supplement this, new self-powered trains using alternative power sources, such as hydrogen or battery, must be introduced to help replace current ageing diesel and diesel bi-mode fleets.

TfN’s plans already include greener trains, and it is making great progress on electrification with programmes like the Transpennine Route Upgrade programme, which Siemens Mobility is also supporting on.

Using a combination of new electric infrastructure and new, green self-powered trains on routes – such as the Cross-Country route, Norwich to Liverpool, non-electrified Northern routes, and the TransPennine route over to Hull – would remove diesel fleets, clean up the air in stations and support the government’s plan to achieve 78 per cent of its net zero obligations by 2035.

This is an area where Siemens Mobility has expertise. We’ve signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Siemens Energy to develop an end-to-end hydrogen for rail system – including the refuelling and supply of hydrogen. We have completed a battery train trial in Austria, have more battery trains on order for East Brandenburg in Germany, and two hydrogen projects in development with Deutsche Bahn and Bayerische Regiobahn in Germany.

The North has a proud rail history, and there is so much potential for it to be at the centre of decarbonisation technology development to drive the Northern economy. I am particularly excited about the new rail village that Siemens Mobility is building at Goole, which will create up to 700 direct jobs and up to 1,700 supply chain opportunities.

This development, which will open next year, will be so much more than just a train manufacturing factory. We will have our rail service businesses, warehousing, and a supplier park. We’re building an innovation hub called RaisE with East Riding of Yorkshire Council and University of Birmingham for SMEs to co-locate with us and innovate, and we will have a research and development facility open to the whole rail industry to work on decarbonisation technologies like hydrogen, battery and digitalisation.

We chose Goole because of the excellent local skill base, transport connectivity, links to local training facilities and universities. Goole will be the Centre of Excellence for Rail in the UK, and beyond.

Passengers are the priority

Our number one focus for decarbonisation is the passenger. We know we have to make it easy for people to make greener travel choices, from the first mile to the last. An enhanced passenger experience, where people have the information they need to book their whole journey at their fingertips and feel safe and well looked after, is key.

This is what we called MaaS or Mobility-As- A-Service where passengers can plan and book their entire journey through different modes of transport on one app, on one ticket, and even get live updates about their journey.

This technology is working well in Copenhagen, and we could bring this to the UK. Funding support is required from government to support the efforts of levelling up through improved transport services, simpler fares and integrated ticketing, and for investment into MaaS technologies and powers provided for transport operators to take part.

We need to go further and faster to green the railway AND encourage more people to use it. It’s important we don’t delay meeting climate targets for us and the next generation – and the North can lead in driving rail decarbonisation.

Photo credit: Siemens Mobility