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How ‘green’ is travelling by train?

Rail is one of the cleanest forms of transport available to people.

Rail is inherently an energy efficient way to travel, carrying large numbers of people on a combined journey requires a lot less energy than using smaller vehicles to make the same journey.

The train itself also requires relatively little energy to maintain its speed once it has accelerated. With trains generally only having to stop at stations it means accelerating is required less often than is the case for a car which needs to change speed for different roads and traffic. New technology on some electric trains also allows energy to be captured when they brake.

Moving more freight onto trains is also benefitting the environment, with every freight train carrying the equivalent of 76 fewer HGVs on the road – one tonne of freight travelling by rail emits 76% less CO2 than if it travelled by road.

Although the industry is continuing work to reduce emissions further, we need to go further and faster. That is why over the coming years the industry wants to see more of the network electrified and new battery and hydrogen technology exploited in order to take diesel-only trains off the network. This will help the UK meet its emissions targets and ensure a cleaner, greener world for generations.

What is the rail industry doing to make travelling by train greener?

Together rail companies are:

  • introducing 8,000 new greener carriages  - this will mean half the UK’s trains will be replaced old for new, producing less emissions.
  • continuing to electrify parts of the network – so that greener, quieter electric trains can run on the tracks
  • reducing the carbon footprint of stations, depots and maintenance vehicles, with increased use of renewable energy, reductions in energy consumption, new LED lighting, improved insulation of buildings and electric car and van technology.
  • constantly investing in improving the railway, increasing capacity and adding more services helping to carry more people that otherwise may be choosing a form of transport that is less green.

The route to achieving a completely carbon-free railway, however, is a real challenge, especially on a network that was designed in the Victorian age. To make it happen, the railway needs certainty and the right frameworks so that it can plan and take the necessary long-term decisions now.


To do this, the industry is calling for the following:

  1. A commitment by Government to a rolling programme of electrification – this would help build-up skills and capability within the industry, reducing the costs of future electrification schemes so they are more in line with comparable projects in Europe.
  2. A new independent organising body to join-up the industry – the Williams Review should recommend the creation of such a body to co-ordinate work on de-carbonisation across the industry and ensure that operators have the right incentives to deliver this change. Find out more about our Changing Track proposals submitted to the Williams Review. 
  3. Targets that reflect the challenges the industry face – we are calling on the Government to develop realistic carbon reduction targets that enable the industry to deliver the step-change to deliver the net zero carbon target by 2050.

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