Image credits: Rail Delivery Group

  • New research shows how building a net zero railway could support 6,000 green jobs lasting to 2050, generate £4.4 billion of economic benefits and catalyse the growth of emerging hydrogen and battery industries
  • Building a net zero railway will support the levelling up agenda with over 90% of jobs created outside London and the South East and over half high-skilled
  • Rail industry says commitment by government to funding a long-term programme to build the infrastructure and technology that will make trains net-zero would help unlock these benefits

Building Britain’s net zero railway could create almost 6,000 long term jobs in the sector nationally between 2024 and 2050 while also supporting the growth of emerging high-value manufacturing sectors, according to a new report.

The study was commissioned by the Rail Delivery Group and uses research and analysis by economists at Oxera, jobs and skills experts at the National Skills Academy for Rail and rolling stock consultants Ipex. It assesses the jobs and other economic benefits that could be created by electrifying remaining parts of the rail network and building hydrogen, battery and electric trains that will be needed where electrification isn’t feasible.

As the single largest consumer of electricity in the country, the rail network will require large amounts of renewable power, as well as hydrogen and battery storage. A commitment by government to fund the decarbonisation of the rail network would therefore drive investment and create more jobs in existing renewables like wind and solar farms.

The government is aiming for Britain to have 5GW of low-carbon hydrogen production capacity by 2030 and hydrogen trains would require between 2-5GWh of power, meaning rail could play the role of an ‘anchor tenant’, enabling the emerging hydrogen industry to scale-up and potentially become an exporter of British expertise. Similarly, a clear and predictable demand for new energy storage solutions would stimulate the development of the industry, particularly in the automotive manufacturing hub of the Midlands.

Building the infrastructure and investing in the technology to make running trains net zero will contribute to the government’s levelling-up agenda with more than 90% of the almost 6,000 new jobs located outside London and the South East. Over half of the roles would be high-skilled and all together would generate £2.2bn in economic benefits.

Thousands of jobs will be needed to assemble the electric, battery and hydrogen-powered vehicles at existing or planned assembly plants at Newton Aycliffe (North East), Goole (Yorkshire and the Humber), Derby (East Midlands) and Newport (Wales).

The research also shows that a net zero railway would cut 33 million tonnes of carbon emissions and deliver a further £2.2bn by making air healthier to breath.

For passengers, the immediate and most tangible benefits to a decarbonised railway would be faster, smoother, more reliable and quieter journeys.

Case study
Hannah Wiles, 28, is a graduate in Mechanical Engineering from Loughborough University.  She is a Project Engineer in the Asset Protection team for Porterbrook, the Derby-based rolling stock company that is developing the HydroFLEX train. Part of her role involves overseeing component and materials recovery from trains when they come to the end of their working life. She said:

“I’m working on an exciting project to upcycle one of our existing trains to run on hydrogen so we can showcase how this green fuel can be used to power passenger trains. I’m very proud that my work on HydroFLEX will support making trains even more environmentally-friendly and I’m really keen to see the railway adopt further green technologies that have been developed successfully in other sectors.” 

Andy Bagnall, Director General at the Rail Delivery Group, said:
“Trains are already one of the greenest forms of transport and this report shows the considerable benefits of government working with rail companies to go even further by making all trains net zero to run. 

“Building Britain’s cleaner and greener railway is a once-in-a-generation opportunity not only to help protect the environment but also to create high skill, well paid jobs across the country both in rail and in the green industries of the future such as hydrogen and battery power. Investing in decarbonising the railway really is a win win.” 

Malcolm Brown, CEO Angel Trains and Chair of the cross-industry Sustainable Rail Executive, said:

“Climate change is one of the most pressing issues of our time and the rail industry has a clear and ambitious vision to decarbonise the network. Now is the time to be bold and invest in a decarbonised railway as the backbone of a green and thriving economy.”