Demonstrating high-speed rail’s carbon credentials

29 April, 2009

A research report prepared for Greengauge 21 by ATOC shows that high-speed rail has a central role to play in reducing carbon emissions from the transport sector.

Greengauge 21 today publishes research which shows that high-speed rail has a central role to play in reducing carbon emissions from the transport sector.

Anticipating progressive improvement in energy efficiency and reduced carbon emissions from the rail, aviation and automotive sectors, the work, which was carried out by ATOC, the Association of Train Operating Companies, shows that high-speed rail could offer a huge saving in carbon compared with air travel and result in 70% less carbon per passenger-km than would be produced from a totally modernised electric car fleet. Against a mixed car fleet, in transition away from petrol/diesel engines, the advantages would be even more dramatic: HSR would produce 30 times less carbon per passenger-km.

“The basic point is this:”, said Greengauge 21 Director Jim Steer, “to achieve lower carbon in the transport sector, we need to provide a better alternative to flying or driving medium/long distances in Britain. High-speed rail offers the transformation needed to make this possible”. Greengauge 21 believes that this will come to be seen as a seminal piece of work on the subject, establishing firmly that high-speed rail has a central role to play in de-carbonising the transport sector.

“The skill of railway engineers can ensure that we have a highly efficient low-carbon national transport network in the century ahead”, said Jim Steer. As the research points out, while the laws of physics are inescapable, the energy consumed in overcoming air resistance at higher speed is in effect shared across all passengers on a train, a key advantage over individual vehicles on the road network. “High-speed rail has the advantage of being able to accommodate in comfort many more passengers in each train than can be achieved under the constraints of today’s rail network. And rolling stock designers in Japan and France are achieving reduced levels of carbon emissions at the same time as they progressively increase top speeds from 260 km/h to 360 km/h”, Jim Steer added.

“It will take at least ten years to get the next stage of high-speed rail up and running in Britain, but this fits well with the timescale over which the electricity supply industry will be de- carbonising”, Jim Steer said.

Michael Roberts, Chief Executive of ATOC commented, “This report shows that, even taking into account future improvements in the carbon performance of other modes, high speed rail has the potential to widen its advantage over air and car travel. It underlines the positive contribution which the railways can make towards achieving the Government’s 2050 goal to cut UK carbon emissions by 80%.”

The research was carried out for Greengauge 21 by ATOC as part of a year-long development programme funded by a broadly-based Public Interest Group established last year. It is available, free of charge, for download from the Greengauge 21 website.

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