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UK Rail Sector Plans to Cut Carbon Intensity 25%

The U.K. rail industry has set out plans to cut carbon emissions per passenger kilometer by a quarter by 2019.

In the Initial Industry Plan (pdf), the Association of Train Operating Companies, Railway Industry Association, Rail Freight Operators Association and network operator Network Rail set out a vision for how to deliver better value for money and drive sustainable economic growth over 2014-19. They said their plan will cut the cost of running the railway by £1.3 billion ($2 billion) a year by 2019.

The industry said carbon savings will come both from absolute emissions reductions from the rail sector itself, and from an increasing share of journeys moving to rail from other modes of transportation. These changes will remove the equivalent of one million truck journeys per year from the roads, cutting C02 emissions by 500,000 tons, the groups said.

Under a business-as-usual scenario, the IIP said that “traction carbon” – emissions from the rail services themselves – would continue to grow to 2019 (see red line in the chart above). This accounts for growth but no further action to improve carbon efficiency.

The IIP then modeled impacts of various initiatives incrementally, with their forecast trajectory shown by the green line, above. This incorporates not only efficiency interventions but electrification, fuel changes and grid de-carbonization.

Under this scenario, carbon would still rise 1.5 percent by 2019 because of significant growth in traffic. But carbon efficiency would improve from 50.1 to 38.4 gram of CO2 per passenger kilometer and from 27.1 to 25.7 gram of CO2 per net freight ton kilometer.

Most of this reduction will stem from improvements outside of the rail industry’s control, the IIP notes. The expected reduction in the carbon intensity of U.K. grid electricity, as well as reductions in the carbon intensity of diesel used by the rail industry, will deliver over half the expected improvements beyond the growth-only trajectory. Network electrification will be key to those efforts, the plan said.

Specific improvements planned by the industry include electrifying parts of the network including the Great Western Main Line.

In the longer term, to 2050, the IIP says that it expects traction emissions to fall by about 33 percent. Much of this will stem from the transition to lower-carbon electricity.

The IIP said that expected increases in energy prices through 2019 and beyond make carbon efficiency an increasingly pressing concern. Energy now accounts for four percent of overall industry costs. Using the Department for Energy and Climate Change’s central price scenario and assuming no further progress on energy efficiency, meeting demand for rail services could raise traction energy prices by £300 million per year (up 45 per cent) by 2019.

The U.K. government has a target to reduce carbon emissions from 1990 levels by 80 per cent by 2050 and transport is a major, and growing, contributor to the country’s carbon footprint.

Non-traction carbon accounts for around 20 per cent of rail’s direct carbon footprint, IIP said. Stations, depots and train control systems are the main contributors to these emissions. These sources face a similar rise in energy prices, and many rail companies face the additional cost of a levy through the U.K. government’s Carbon Reduction Commitment Energy Efficiency Scheme.

But the paper said that when it comes to non-traction carbon, the industry has limited understanding of current energy performance and potential for improvements. These stationary sources of energy consumption could also account for significant costs as energy prices rise.

Costs and carbon forecasts are vulnerable to changes in projections (pdf) from the Department for Energy and Climate Change, which “may be expected,” the IIP said. It also noted that the U.K. government plans to publish a national climate change adaptation plan in two years, and any new priorities set out in this plan could have a significant impact on the industry’s own approach to carbon reductions.

Elaine Cohen of consulting firm Beyond Business recently argued that the rail sector does not have a widely recognized positive image.

But she said that reporting can help the sector transform its public perception, by positioning rail as the environmentally preferable option.

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