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April 27, 2022

Rail infrastructure must improve if UK is to meet sustainability goals

According to UK government figures, the British transportation sector is estimated to have been responsible for approximately 24% of greenhouse gas emissions in 2020.

By GlobalData

In order for the UK to meet its net-zero carbon emissions target by 2050, there needs to be a significant investment in improving its rail infrastructure. Fuel efficiency, cost, and improved environmental awareness are the key elements that will help the UK rail sector evolve, modernise, and contribute positively to the UK’s environmental targets.

Rail travel needs to become more affordable to attract travellers

The cost of rail travel in the UK is higher than in many other countries, prompting many British travellers to opt for comparably cheaper domestic flights on longer routes, or trips by road on shorter ones. Unfortunately, this consumer behaviour adds to the UK’s carbon emissions problem. On 1 March 2022, regulated fares in England and Wales rose 3.8%, covering approximately half of all fares in what was the largest price increase in a decade, discouraging UK travellers, many of whom are already suffering from economic hardship. This is the wrong message to send to UK travellers as they will typically look for cheaper alternatives, particularly if it involves leisure activities such as domestic holidays or day trips. According to a GlobalData Q3 2021 Consumer Survey, 48% of respondents said affordability was a key factor when booking a holiday, highlighting current consumer sentiment.

Cleaner, more efficient travel and education are essential

According to UK government figures, the British transportation sector is estimated to have been responsible for approximately 24% of greenhouse gas emissions in 2020. The use of petrol and diesel in road transport is the main source of emissions from this sector, highlighting the need for shared public transport such as trains. In order to meet sustainability targets, the UK should extend its fleet of hydrogen-powered rail engines as these are significantly more environmentally friendly. A University of Birmingham researcher, Alex Burrows (project director for the ‘Hydroflex’) describes them as “mini power stations on wheels” because they emit no emissions and produce only water as a by-product.

The UK government has often supported cleaner forms of transport such as trams and buses. It actively encourages travellers to engage with these forms of transportation but more needs to be done. Companies should be independently audited and incentivised to reduce their carbon footprint. This could help prevent rising ticket costs, particularly in the rail sector.

Education is also a key factor. Spreading awareness of e-friendly travel through smaller means, such as tickets and rail cars, could be effective within the UK market. As per a GlobalData opinion poll, 73.5% of UK respondents agreed when asked, “Do you agree that the introduction of sustainability labels on products should be mandatory?” This research highlights the warm sentiment of the general public towards sustainable advertising.

UK must reduce greenhouse gas emissions

Before 2020, there had been relatively little overall change in greenhouse gas emissions from the transport sector in the last three decades, with emissions only 5% lower in 2019 than in 1990. Naturally, there are many other industries the UK needs to address in order to reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions. However, the transportation industry plays a significant part, and if the UK is to attain its ambitious targets, it must put considerable focus on its rail sector.

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