The phasing out of diesel trains from Britain’s railways could be intensified as part of the Government’s bid to cut carbon emissions.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told MPs he is “hugely concerned” that the current policy means diesel trains will continue to operate until 2040.
Earlier this month, he pledged to “thoroughly explore” the case for bringing forward the date for banning the sale of conventionally-fuelled new cars by five years.
Giving evidence to the Commons Transport Select Committee on Wednesday, he said: “I’m also hugely concerned about the idea that we could still have new partially diesel-run trains up to 2040.
“When I look at my comments on cars, where at the moment the policy is 2040 to end the sale of petrol and diesel but I recently said that I’m going to investigate (bringing this forward to) 2035, I also am of course very interested in the earlier extinction of diesel trains.”
An estimated 29% of Britain’s rail fleet is solely diesel-powered.
In February 2018, then-rail minister Jo Johnson announced that he wanted all of these trains to be replaced by 2040.
Mr Shapps’ comments suggest the Government may also ban bi-mode trains – which can be powered by diesel or electricity.
His predecessor, Chris Grayling, heralded bi-mode trains as a way of delivering almost identical passenger benefits as electrifying lines, without the need to carry out the “disruptive” work.
Mr Grayling received widespread criticism in July 2017 when electrification projects in Wales, the Midlands and the North were axed or downgraded.
An investigation by the Rail Industry Decarbonisation Task Force found there are “real possibilities” for some journeys to be made by trains powered by hydrogen fuel cells or batteries, such as local trains that make frequent stops.
But it warned that for high-speed intercity and freight services there are “no suitable alternatives to electric and diesel traction” that will be developed by 2040.
Electric trains have been estimated to cut carbon emissions by 20-35% compared with diesel trains, but only 42% of Britain’s rail track is electrified.
Sim Harris, managing editor of industry newspaper Railnews, claimed that starting a rolling programme of electrification works is the only way to bring forward the phasing out of diesel trains.
“If they don’t do it then I’m afraid Mr Shapps’ ambitions just don’t work,” he told the PA news agency.
“New technologies can emerge and they may do so, but I think stopping the electrification programme on the very spurious grounds that it avoided disruption was a foolish thing to do, particularly in light of the environmental difficulties.”