Robroyston railway station

Scotland will decarbonise its railways by 2045

Scotland, the constituent unit of the United Kingdom, will reach zero emission by 2045. To this end, the country’s government plans to decarbonise the railway network. Within this policy, it has scheduled massive improvements of Scotland’s rail infrastructure and implementation of innovative rolling stock on the regional tracks.

For many years, diesel trains were an essential part of the local railway network. In the coming years, they could stay in the past as the Scottish Government is planning to turn the country’s railways into decarbonised. Therefore, it prepared the “Rail Services Decarbonisation Action Plan” that was unveiled at the end of July. The document was developed in line with Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Act 2019, which sets in law several targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions: “2030 is at least 75 per cent lower than the baseline, and 2040 is at least 90 per cent lower than the baseline”. Meanwhile, 2045 was prescribed as the “net-zero emissions target year”.

To this end, Scotland’s railways will play a significant role in the mentioned process. “Transport is a significant contributor of greenhouse gas emissions, but within the transport mix, Scotland’s railway is a success story, with around 76 per cent of passenger and 45 per cent of freight journeys already on electric traction. We must build on this success by converting more passenger and freight journeys to this environmentally sustainable mode, a key element of our new National Transport Strategy. Through investment in electrification and complementary traction systems we will decarbonise the traction element of domestic daytime passenger rail journeys in Scotland,” Michael Matheson, Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity in the Scottish Government, noted in his foreword to the Action Plan.

Routes for electrification

As Mr Matheson mentioned, electrification will be one of the pillars in transforming Scotland’s rail sector. Only around 29 per cent of tracks (or around 41 per cent in terms of single-track rail kilometres) are electrified in the country. The electric trains run mainly in Central Belt, the most populated area in Scotland. “Currently three of Scotland’s seven cities are already connected by a modern electrified network: Glasgow, Edinburgh and Stirling with all routes between Glasgow and Edinburgh now electrified,” the Action Plan reads.

Electrification of Scotland’s network according to Rail Decarbonisation Action Plan, source: Transport Scotland

The document notes that the key focus for the electrification works in the coming decades will be northward from the Central Belt (see the map above). There will be electrified a major part of the Highland Main Line, from Stirling to Inverness (via Perth) as well as several regional routes including those from Perth to Inverness (via Aberdeen).

Alternative traction

Another pillar to decarbonise Scotland’s railways is the use of alternative traction technologies. “Alternative traction options will be needed to provide passenger services either before full electrification can be delivered on some lines or on other predominantly rural lines, where full electrification may be inappropriate due to cost or environmental factors,” the document notes. According to it, the diesel passenger trains will be removed from the Scottish tracks by 2035. The Scottish Government is regarding the hydrogen- and battery-powered trains as the most efficient replacement of the diesel conventional vehicles.

Azuma bi-mode train in Highlands
LNER Azuma bi-mode train in Highlands, source: LNER

There could be introduced another type of rolling stock – the bi-mode trains. Currently, they are gaining popularity among British railway operators. However, they have another specification. In fact, they are diesel- and electric-powered vehicles being able to run on both electrified and non-electrified routes. In the future, the conventional bi-mode trains will be replaced with the battery-electric multiple units. “Battery-electric trains have potential to offer operating cost savings (along with zero emissions) when compared with diesel power without the capital cost of full electrification infrastructure, though the capital and operating costs of battery electric vehicles are higher than standard electric trains,” the Action Plan states.

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Author: Mykola Zasiadko

Mykola Zasiadko is editor of online trade magazines and

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