Launched during Decarbonising Transport Week 2023, RIA’s RailDecarb23 campaign calls on the Government to take action now to enable the rail industry to remove all diesel-only trains from the network by 2040 and reach Net Zero by 2050.

The campaign urges the Government to accelerate plans for rail decarbonisation, through a rolling programme of electrification, investment in new traction methods like hydrogen and battery and bringing together Government, rail clients and suppliers to seek ways to reduce carbon when building the railway network.  

About RailDecarb23

Rail already plays a crucial role when it comes to decarbonisation, being a small part of the problem but a big part of the solution. Rail is one of the greenest forms of transport, contributing just 1.4% of transport emissions despite carrying 10% of all journeys and accounting for under 1% of all UK emissions. A single freight train removes up to 76 lorries from our roads, significantly reducing carbon emissions.

While rail has a proud track record and the potential to deliver even more, the industry needs the Government accelerate its decarbonisation plans. Insufficient investment in electrification and new traction technologies like hydrogen and battery means that Government targets of removing all diesel-only trains by 2040 and achieving a fully Net Zero railway by 2050 are currently set to be missed. 

The Traction Decarbonisation Network Strategy (TDNS) published by Network Rail in 2020 shows that to achieve Net Zero, the 15,400 kilometres of currently unelectrified railway lines in the UK will require decarbonising by:
13,000 kilometres to be electrified;
1,300 kilometres for hydrogen trains;
800 kilometres using battery trains; and
300 kilometres where a technology choice has not yet been made.

RIA is far from alone is calling for the Government to step-up their decarbonisation programme. A recent Transport Committee report (Fuelling the future: motive power and connectivity) says that Ministers need to speed up progress with electrifying the UK’s railways lines and publish a long-term strategy for decarbonising the rail network. The Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport in the UK (CILT) has produced a roadmap which sets out how 95% of rail freight operations could be electrified by the mid-2040s at a lower cost compared to recent schemes. 


Electrification is currently the only decarbonisation technology that can deliver a full range of requirements including high-speed, long-distance passenger travel and freight haulage. To achieve its decarbonisation goals, the Government must electrify the network at a faster rate.

Electrification may not be viable on all routes as the long-term benefits may not justify the high investment cost and level of disruption caused by engineering works; in these cases battery electric and hydrogen may provide a solution.

Parliament's Transport Committee (Fuelling the future: motive power and connectivity report)

To empower rail to fulfil its immense potential, the Railway Industry Association is urging the Government to adopt a three-point plan to accelerate rail decarbonisation:

1. Immediately implement a rolling programme of cost-effective electrification on intensively-used lines

38% of the UK rail network is electrified – much less than comparable European countries. Electrified railways have been shown to benefit passengers and the wider travelling public as they:

Are 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;
Cost less in the long term when compared to the whole-life costs of diesel services;
Improve journey times due to superior braking and acceleration;
Reduce passenger delays, as electric trains are more reliable than diesel trains; 
Are quieter, reducing noise pollution for those living and working near the tracks and reducing noise and vibration for passengers;
Are lighter, meaning less wear to the track and therefore less maintenance; and
Are the only decarbonisation technology suitable for freight trains and faster passenger trains (above 100mph).

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 contributed to higher costs as the sector is unable to retain the skills and expertise. In contrast a consistent workload in Germany has supported much lower unit costs. 

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

2. Ramp-up fleet orders of low carbon rolling stock using new traction methods on less intensively-used parts of the network, including hydrogen and battery

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. However, despite the fact that immediate carbon reduction could be achieved, no significant fleet orders have been placed for these technologies. 

Significant fleet orders 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.
3. Government, Network Rail and other rail clients to work with suppliers so they never lose out for offering lower carbon solutions, but are incentivised to reduce emissions. 

Many suppliers have set out their own route to Net Zero and are actively innovating to reduce the carbon in the goods and services they supply. Clients such as Network Rail are supporting this by asking suppliers to ‘sign up’ to targets to reduce the 97% of Network Rail’s carbon emissions that fall within ‘scope three’, meaning that they largely come from third parties, including suppliers. Network Rail’s Environmental Sustainability Strategy includes a target for 75% of suppliers to have their own science-based targets by 2025. 

This is positive, but it needs to be supported by specification and buying strategies that do not penalise low carbon solutions which are a little more expensive or new. 

4.  Planning for cost efficient delivery

Recognising the current fiscal challenges, RIA further recommends that there should be a cross-industry dialogue to establish a plan that maximises carbon reduction and rail service benefits within the available funding. This would aim to provide the industry with sufficient certainty to support investment decisions and a ramp up of delivery capability to deliver a programme for net zero rail. This could include examination of market solutions for financing the programme.

To stimulate this discussion, RIA will be developing further whole system proposals (including infrastructure and rolling stock) for interventions needed to efficiently decarbonise.

By adopting RIA’s key decarbonisation asks, the Government will enable rail to play a fuller role in securing Net Zero, and also give the supply sector the certainty it needs to plan ahead and deliver efficiently whilst creating jobs, investment and economic growth.



Rail Electrification: The Facts
This paper brings together the key benefits of electrification, above and beyond decarbonisation, from lower costs to reduced journey times. 

Why Rail Electrification?
This report urges the Government to begin a programme of rail electrification now, in order to meet Net Zero commitments. 

Electrification Cost Challenge report
The ECC report uses examples from both the UK and abroad to demonstrate how the high costs of recent electrification projects can be avoided in the future. 


Latest Activity

The UK Rolling Stock Industry 2023

Posted on 21/07/2023
The Government has to take action now on rolling stock orders for upgrade or replacement of the oldest trains on our network thousands of jobs will be at risk across the railway industry

New report reveals Government falling behind on rail decarbonisation targets

Posted on 08/06/2023
The Government is making insufficient progress on its key UK rail decarbonisation commitments, a detailed quantitative analysis has revealed.

Railway Industry publishes new paper outlining many benefits of rail electrification

Posted on 31/03/2023
Following the launch of the RailDecarb23 campaign, the Railway Industry Association (RIA) has today published a new paper which brings together the key benefits of rail electrification, from lower costs to reduced journey times.

Rail Electrification: The Facts

Posted on 30/03/2023

RIA launches RailDecarb23, calling on the Government to accelerate plans to decarbonise rail

Posted on 09/03/2023
The Railway Industry Association (RIA), the voice of the UK rail supply community, has today launched RailDecarb23.

Miliband states rail can ‘pave the way to net zero transport’ in visit to Doncaster’s Unipart Rail

Posted on 26/10/2022
Shadow Secretary of State for Climate Change and Net Zero Ed Miliband has backed innovation in the rail industry to help the sector decarbonise.

RIA North responds to Transport Select Committee report, recommending the Government revisit the IRP

Posted on 27/07/2022
RIA North responds to Transport Select Committee report, recommending the Government revisit the IRP

Transformative South Wales Metro showcased for Shadow Welsh Secretary Jo Stevens

Posted on 20/06/2022
As part of RIA's Rail Fellowship Programme, Shadow Welsh Secretary Jo Stevens MP was given a tour of the South Wales Metro project.

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.

Railway industry welcomes the publication of enhancements pipeline

Posted on 04/08/2021
RIA has responded to the publication of the Rail Network Enhancements Pipeline (RNEP).

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