Five projects to each received £350,000 as Department for Transport seeks to cut diesel emissions across the UK rail network
Could you soon commute to work on a solar-powered train? That is one of the questions the government is hoping to answer after awarding new funding to five innovative projects designed to cut diesel emissions across the UK's rail network.
The Department for Transport (DfT) today announced the results of the second round of its First of a Kind (FOAK) funding competition, dishing out £1.75m of funding to a range of projects designed to cut carbon emissions from the UK's railways.
The successful projects, which will each be awarded around £350,000, include three initiatives to improve curb emissions from diesel trains, as well as the Riding Sunbeams initiative to connect solar panels direct to the rail network and a project from Steamology to deliver a system that uses hydrogen and oxygen to produce steam to power engines.
The announcement comes on the same day as the Rail Industry Decarbonisation Taskforce published an interim report setting out how the sector could deliver on the DfT's target to remove diesel-only trains from the network by 2040.
Rail Minister Andrew Jones said the new R&D funding was part of a wider effort to meet the 2040 goal.
"We want a cleaner, greener rail network and transforming our trains will help make this a reality," he said. "The targets we set for 2040 are ambitious but are within our reach. It is encouraging to see the huge efforts already underway to make this happen. This funding will be vital in helping these fantastic projects adapt to the demands of rail and enable their potential roll-out, delivering a cleaner, healthier network for passengers."
The Task Force's interim report, which was authored by former Angel Trains CEO and chair of the Task Force Malcolm Brown, suggests a wide range of measures are required to deliver on the 2040 target.
The report highlights the potential to cut emissions from stations and depots through the use of new technologies, switch to alternatively fuelled trains such as emerging battery and fuel cell models, and electrify additional routes where it is cost effective to do so.
"Our report sets out a credible set of options to meet the challenge to decarbonise," said Brown. "Our report sets out a credible set of options to meet the challenge to decarbonise. We believe that there is a real opportunity for the rail industry in Great Britain to become a world leader in developing and delivering low carbon solutions."
The report presents something of a challenge to DfT after the government controversially axed wide-ranging plans to electrify a number of key routes across the network, citing cost concerns.
The government said at the time that the routes could instead make use of new hybrid and hydrogen fuel cell trains to curb carbon emissions and air pollution, but provided scant detail on how it would support such projects.
Ministers have subsequently signalled they are keen to see alternative fuelled trains deployed on the network and Train operator Northern is expected to shortly submit a business plan for it to potentially use hybrid battery trains on the Lakes Line in Cumbria.
A number of leading engineering and rail companies are also working on new zero emission fuel cell trains, which they hope to trial in the UK following similar pilot projects that have recently launched in Germany.
However, today's report also stresses that electrification of some lines remains a potentially viable mechanisms for curbing emissions across the network and the industry will shortly come forward with more detailed plans for how some electrification projects could be revived.
"This report is a vital step in achieving the government's challenge of decarbonising the rail network by 2040," said Taskforce Member David Clarke, technical director at the Railway Industry Association (RIA)."Crucially, the report sets out a selection of potential solutions, including the electrification of intensively used rail routes where appropriate. Now, the industry will set out how it can deliver electrification schemes cost-effectively, which will be explored further in the Railway Industry Association's Electrification Cost Challenge report - due to be published soon, on 28 February."
Gary Cooper, director of planning, operations and engineering at the Rail Delivery Group, which represents train operators and Network Rail, said the rail network offered inherent environmental benefits. But he also warned the sector had to embrace new technologies if it is to play a full role in the UK's low carbon transition.
"With record numbers of people choosing to travel by rail and with annual rail freight haulage equating to eight million HGV journeys, the railway is already cutting up to 7.7 million tonnes of carbon emissions every year with fewer cars and lorries on the road," he said. "But we need to do more to keep pace with progress seen in other transport sectors including making better use of existing electrification infrastructure, electrifying more lines where cost-effective and harnessing emerging battery and hydrogen fuel cell technologies."
The government's latest funding for greener train technologies is hugely welcome, as is the commitment to phasing out diesel trains over the next two decades. But as the industry today makes clear, a credible clean train strategy capable of delivering on the 2040 goal will require a lot more from government than a handful of encouraging clean tech trials.
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