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Rail minister reveals 'ambitious' plan to scrap diesel by 2040

Network Rail

Diesel-only trains will be taken off UK railways by 2040, the Department for Transport (DfT) is set to announce today.

Jo Johnson will use his first speech as rail minister to call on the industry to devise plans to phase out the use of diesel-only trains in the next 22 years.

Johnson will say: “I would like to see us take all diesel-only trains off the track by 2040. If that seems like an ambitious goal, it should be and I make no apology for that. After all we’re committed to ending the sales of petrol and diesel cars by 2040. If we can achieve that, then why can’t the railway aspire to a similar objective?”

He called for the industry to submit proposals for a diesel-free network in the autumn.

The announcement comes in the wake of the controversial decision to scrap electrification schemes in South Wales, the Lake District and parts of the Midlands Mainline. Bi-mode trains will be introduced on these routes instead.

Bi-mode trains have been criticised by rail experts as being expensive to maintain and environmentally unfriendly. Full electrification of the Midlands Mainline would deliver £271M in greenhouse gas savings over 60 years compared to £11M for bi-mode trains, DfT figures show.

Johnson will say: “As battery technologies improve we expect to see the diesel engines in bi-modes replaced altogether with batteries powering the train between the electrified sections of the network.

“Or maybe in the future we could see those batteries and diesel engines replaced with hydrogen units. Alternative-fuel trains powered entirely by hydrogen are a prize on the horizon and I’d like to see hydrogen train trials on the UK railway as soon as possible because hydrogen offers an affordable – and potentially much cleaner – alternative to diesel.”

Railway Industry Association technical director David Clarke said the switch from diesel-only is a challenge that will require “significant innovation”.

He said: “We welcome this announcement as it will ensure that the rail industry continues to be one of the most environmentally friendly modes of travel and it sets an ambitious target which will require significant innovation from the industry.

“Currently 29% of the fleet on the UK’s rail network is diesel. To replace these we will need to install overhead power lines for electrification or use on-board energy storage from technology such as batteries or hydrogen fuel cells – or a combination of both.

“This is therefore a big challenge for the industry but one which I think it can and will look forward to meeting”.

“De-carbonising the railway will require the adoption of new technologies like hydrogen and battery powered trains,” said Rail Delivery Group director of planning, engineering and operations Gary Cooper, “both of which the industry is looking at carefully, and the electrification of more lines”

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