Rail Minister Jo Johnson is calling for diesel-only trains to be taken off the tracks by 2040
12 FEBRUARY 2018 • 12:01 AM
Every diesel train in Britain should be scrapped by 2040, the Rail Minister will announce today amid plans to drastically cut pollution on Britain’s rail network.
Jo Johnson will call on rail companies to follow the automotive industry by switching to alternative fuels and battery technology.
However, MPs and trade bodies last night warned that the costs of the overhaul must be shouldered by customers through higher ticket prices.
They add that in order to realise Mr Johnson’s ambitious targets, the Government will to provide the proper incentives and support to firms at a time of growing concern over the long-term sustainability of the franchise system.
Last night the Department for Transport was unable to specify how the upgrade scheme would be paid for, although a spokesman said that costs would be factored into franchise regime.
In his first major speech Mr Johnson will signal his ambition to introduce a wave of environmentally friendly hydrogen trains, the first of which is expected to be trialled as early as 2021.
Rail Minister Jo Johnson
Rail Minister Jo Johnson CREDIT: SIMON COOPER/PA
He will tell rail firms that the industry’s efforts to modernise has been “palpably slow” compared with other transport sectors, as he urges them to transition to low-emitting biofuel and battery based alternatives.
Speaking at the British Museum, Mr 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?
“This Government is now injecting record levels of investment in the railway to help it grow further. But alongside increased funding, the industry also needs to modernise. Compared with other transport sectors, progress has been palpably slow.
“Today I am calling on the railway to provide a vision for how it will decarbonise. And I expect the industry to report back by the autumn.
While firms will be initially encouraged to switch to alternative fuels as a means of meeting the target, Mr Johnson will push for greater investment in battery technology.
Integral to this will be the rollout of hydrogen-powered trains, with Arriva, the operator of the Northern franchise, already set to introduce a hydrogen or electrical hybrid as early as 2021.
The Daily Telegraph understands that Mr Johnson and colleagues are keen to promote the technology as a cheaper alternative to electrifying lines, an option which is becoming increasingly expensive to pursue.
Less than half of the network is currently electrified, with the Government last year forced to scrap a £500m scheme between Yorkshire and London.
Meanwhile, Alstom, the world’s leading producer of hydrogen-powered trains, is already in talks with British operators about bringing the technology to the UK.
Following in the footsteps of Germany, which has signed a deal to operate 14 hydrogen trains by 2021, Mr Johnson will say that he expects battery-powered models to replace the current fleet “altogether”.
“In the future we could see those batteries and diesel engines replaced with hydrogen units,” he will tell the industry.
“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.”
Speaking to The Daily Telegraph, Tory MP Steve Double, a member of the Commons transport committee, said that “welcomed the ambition” but urged the Government to ensure that the strategy would not lead to greater costs being imposed on consumers.
“I think that at this time the Government needs to make clear that they intend to support the industry and to instill confidence that the costs are not placed on the customer,” he added.
His comments were echoed by Anthony Smith, the chief executive of Transport Focus, who said that customers would only get on board if it proved cost effective.
“This strategy needs to be factored into the franchise model, so that the costs are borne in the franchise bid. Customers want value - it’s got to be cheaper, quicker and more reliable than electrification,” he added.
It comes as the Transport Committee last night announced the launch of an inquiry into the East Coast rail franchise, amid claims that the train operator, Network Rail and ministers have “serious questions” to answer.
The franchise, a joint venture between Stagecoach and Virgin, may be renationalised within months after the firms announced huge losses last year.
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