The High Speed Rail Group (HSRG) has urged the government to commit to the decarbonisation of UK railways by 2040.

In response to the UK Department of Transport’s consultation ‘Decarbonised Transport: Setting the Challenge’, the organisation has identified HS2 as the new zero-carbon transport backbone for the UK.

In a submission made to the department, HSRG stated that HS2 is critical to developing the government’s Transport Decarbonisation Plan and recognises that it can change travel patterns and decrease emissions across the network.

To achieve the net-zero targets of the government, the industry should ‘commit to the decarbonisation of the rail network by 2040’.

The targets can be achieved by forming a public transport system that comprises a national high-speed rail spine made of a core network of high-speed lines.

In its submission, HSRG noted that the rail industry is required to focus on personal mileage rather than trip numbers during the assessment of carbon emissions to shift from domestic aviation to rail travel.

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Around half of all emissions from surface transport currently come from journeys of more than 15 miles, and nearly a quarter of emissions come from journeys of over 50 miles.

HSRG has urged the government to issue an interurban or national Future of Mobility strategy that will bring about innovation for longer distance travel.

An HSRG spokesperson said: “As a new transport spine for Britain able to operate on zero-carbon electricity, HS2 will be transformative for longer journeys, including the increasing number of leisure trips, which, when made by car, are particularly carbon-intensive.

“When one considers that almost two-thirds of emissions from these longer (exceeding 50 miles) trips are for leisure or visiting friends and family, it dispels any notion that HS2 will only benefit business travellers, as some critics have sought to suggest.

“Whilst day-to-day commuting may reduce as a result of Covid-19, a desire to meet face-to-face with friends and family will not, and as such it is more important than ever that the Department for Transport sets out plans to address these longer distance emissions.”

In June, HSRG urged officials to connect HS2 with Scotland, which will increase the connectivity, decrease carbon and rebalance the economy.