Electrification of railways is the fast track to net zero in Scotland

The electrification of rail and introduction of self-powered trains is essential if Scotland is to meet its climate targets

Siemens Mobility’s analysis highlights that in order to meet 
Scotland’s challenging net zero targets urgent decisions need to be taken to speed up electrification plans, introduce hydrogen/battery trains and remove diesel trains from the network.

The Scottish Government is leading the way on transport decarbonisation but can go further and faster with electrification and will need to introduce hydrogen railway infrastructure and trains, says Siemens Mobility’s UK CEO Will Wilson. 

HeraldScotland:

Current plans to decarbonise Scotland’s railway network, with a 2035 target enshrined in law, are challenging. Some 1,800 single track kilometres (STK) of electrified railway have been identified* as required to hit targets. 

He points out that a significant proportion of Scotland’s trains are already 25 to 30 years old and are coming to the end of their useful life. “To build a new fleet of trains from first concept to delivery is a five to seven-year cycle and certain lines have got to be electrified, so key decisions must be made quickly to allow these projects to get underway.”

Replacing these trains with proven battery or green hydrogen driven trains on track that has yet to be electrified, would go a long way towards helping the government achieve its stated plan of reaching 78% of its net-zero target by 2035. The combination of full and discontinuously electrifed routes would be supported by these alternative power sources to address connectivity, but speed is essential. 

“There are a number of unelectrified lines, for example in the far north of Scotland and West Highlands, where the government is considering replacing the diesel fleet with advanced hydrogen and battery technology. It is important to commit to the next level of decisions to bring in hydrogen and hydrogen-electric trains and associated infrastructure, as well as pushing ahead with a real commitment to the electrification of the network,” Wilson argues. 

Electric battery and hydrogen trains emit at least 60% less carbon overall per passenger mile than diesel trains. Running hydrogen, battery or hydrogen bi-mode, trains on lines where electrification is not practical, such as in the north of Scotland would help cut carbon emissions significantly, he argues.

Wilson points out that Siemens Mobility already has two projects, one with Deutsche Bahn and one with the German state of Bavaria, delivering a whole hydrogen rail system. The trains will have a top speed of 160 km/h and have a range of up to 600 kilometres, running solely on hydrogen, with the ability to refuel in 15 minutes – similar to diesel. 

“The system consisting of trains and infrastructure, is intended to replace diesel-powered trainsets operating on regional routes and help Germany reduce CO2 emissions.

“We’re involved in a 30 month test on the Augsburg – Fussen route with the State Government of Bavaria and local railway company Bayerische Regiobahn (BRB).

“Also a one-year test of the train in the region around the city of Tübingen, with the state government of Baden-Württemberg providing support for the project. The Federal Ministry for Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI) has announced its intention to fund the project. These are the kind of projects we want to see going forward in Scotland,” he comments. 

HeraldScotland:

The Siemens hydrogen train being developed for the UK will be equipped with a newly developed hydrogen fuel cell and will be as powerful as its electric counterpart.

It will have a top speed of 100 mph and will have an operating range of up to 600 miles, dispelling current myths that hydrogen trains are slow and have a very limited range.

Electricity from renewable sources will be used to produce green hydrogen to power the trains. Siemens Gamesa has invested in an industrial-scale system capable of harvesting green hydrogen from electricity produced by offshore wind.  

Wilson points out that Siemens actually has a wide-ranging suite of products that bear directly on cutting emissions and combatting climate change.

These include signalling and low-cost electrification, Clean Air Zones and EV charging technology but also digital solutions to address problems such as how to encourage large numbers of people to take private transport instead of their private cars, or how to get large freight lorries to run on electricity on motorway-catenary, like trams. 

He argues strongly that these new approaches are not about trying to lever new technologies into existence by their bootstraps. “We are really not talking about greenfield, fresh out the lab technologies here,” he says. “If you go back a decade or so, wind power generation was a great concept but nobody really knew how to do it on a large scale.”

“Wind got going because the government introduced a mechanism that enabled green energy to be sold into the market at rates that kick-started the industry.

“Today we already have the technologies in place to reduce public reliance on the private car. All we need to do is to get them implemented on a large scale,” he says.

With some 52% of the carbon being produced in the UK coming from diesel engines in cars, trucks and trains, it makes sense to introduce digital-based solutions for end-to-end public travel in urban conurbations, with all the information at people’s fingertips and the ability to buy one ticket for the whole journey. What stops people from taking buses are long waits, uncertain arrival times and overcrowded public transport. 

“If you have bus companies with the proper digital systems in place, you can give people much more certainty about bus arrival times or even introduce door to door services that are matched to the numbers of folks wanting to travel,” says Wilson and he argues that Siemens already has this technology available today. 

“We have worked extensively with Network Rail and Transport Scotland, to work out what it would take to have a green transport system that provides a viable alternative to the private car. 

“For the railways, we can use modern, innovative electrification equipment, clever digital signalling and advanced battery and hydrogen and battery technology to give a well-rounded solution to help meet decarbonisation targets.

“Scotland is the leader of this decarbonisation technology and implementation to date but there are opportunities to go further and faster. What is absolutely clear is the need to act more quickly. Scotland’s climate challenges are real and current and meeting decarbonisation targets will only happen if action is taken now.”

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Overhead power lines idea for road haulage industry

Moving freight by road is a major source of CO2 emissions, but a solution could lie in connecting dual-fuel trucks to power sources above the carriageway

One of the more intractable CO2 producing problems now has a solution that simply needs political will to bring it into being. At the moment, freight lorries cannot readily be driven by battery power on today’s technologies.

HeraldScotland:

They are too heavy to keep freight moving long distances on electric power. 

This is a problem because today’s HGV haulage industry, running on diesel power, is responsible for some 18% of all CO2 vehicle emissions in the UK.

However, Siemens Mobility has a solution which the company’s CEO, Will Wilson, explains as an eHighway.  

The idea is to run a cantilever system alongside the slow lane on major roads from the key UK ports. The cantilevers would carry overhead wiring to electrify the slow lane and trucks would be equipped with tram-style overhead equipment to draw power from the wiring. 

“The trucks would have a hybrid drive, and there are no restrictions on the type of hybrid drive, depending on what is needed by the customer. The electric motors of the eHighway trucks also enable recovery of the vehicle’s braking energy. This would solve the problem of them navigating out of the electrified lanes as they head to warehouses. Companies like Amazon and the major supermarkets are always going to have to run freight on the road network and this would help to cut the haulage industry’s emissions dramatically,” Wilson argues. 

The lorries would use a pantograph device similar to those used on Edinburgh trams, which draws power from the overhead lines. The power would also charge the vehicle’s batteries as it drives. 

The idea is to enable HGV trucks to run exactly like a tram, but without the rails. It wouldn’t stop them from overtaking a slower moving vehicle as they would instantly switch to an alternative fuel, such as battery, to move into the second lane. But they would move back to the slow lane once they had passed the vehicle and would again draw power from the overhead lines. 

Similarly, when they turned off the motorway to complete their journey, they would again draw on either battery or alternative fuel for the last few miles to their destinations. The whole point of the exercise is that the HGVs would be running on clean electricity for the majority of their journey. 

Siemens Mobility is part of a consortium which has been awarded a contract to look at the feasibility of introducing electric road systems on a stretch of the M180. It includes organisations such as Scania, Costain, The Centre for Sustainable Road Freight (Cambridge University and Heriot-Watt University) and SPL Powerlines.

The consortium has initially estimated that it would cost some £19 billion to convert over 9,000 miles of Britain’s trunk roads by 2040. This would provide a sustainable freight network for the country. The whole project would start by focusing on the major routes from ports like Glasgow, Grangemouth and Leith in Scotland and Immingham, Dover, Felixstowe, Hull and Liverpool in England.  

There is no doubt that the project would require a substantial commitment from the UK and Scottish governments. There would also be the question of what support the governments would provide to the haulage industry to have them invest in upgraded HGV trucks to take advantage of the scheme. 

However, with fuel costs being a very significant part of any haulier’s outgoings, being able to power their vehicles with green electricity could well be attractive. The opportunity exists for this to be a revenue earner for the Treasury. 

Wilson notes that the government has to face up to the fact that it will lose tens of billions in fuel duty and vehicle tax as consumers switch over to electric cars.

Siemens has calculated that charging hauliers the equivalent of eight pence a mile could enable the whole project to break even in 20 years and would be a revenue earner for decades. 
The idea is being actively trialled in both Sweden and Germany. The Swedes began small-scale trials of eHighways as far back as 2016. Several live schemes in Germany are currently underway, including in Frankfurt, which is currently being extended.

Wilson points out that doing nothing is not an option. A commitment to sustainability by government is necessary to ensure that the country meets the obligations to reduce the 18% of the UK’s CO2 road vehicle emissions that the haulage sector contributes.

Wilson adds that Siemens Mobility is also working on a number of other fronts to help cut emissions. “As a transport company, we are committed to reaching net zero by 2030 on as many solutions as we can, such as through digitilisation, signalling and electrification of the transport system.” he says. 

“Siemens Mobility believes that eHighways are the answer of removing dirty diesel from freight transport and having clean electricity as the core enables hybrid solutions to be developed from there. We now need government to put their support behind making this a reality across the country.”

 

The Herald Scotland

The Herald Scotland

The Herald is a Scottish broadsheet newspaper founded in 1783. The Herald is the longest running national newspaper in the world and is the eighth oldest daily paper in the world. The title was simplified from The Glasgow Herald in 1992