WORLD leaders, policy makers, business leaders and activists have descended on Glasgow this week to try and build momentum towards tackling the climate crisis.
One of the key questions bouncing around COP26 will be how we can accelerate decarbonising transport. As one of the major contributors to global emissions, it is not a new challenge. But to date, we have fallen short of taking the necessary level of action. We cannot afford to fail and we know that there are viable solutions that can be implemented now.
One of these is in rail - a mode of transport which accounts for just 1.4% of the transport sector’s total CO2 emissions. Rail is one of the greenest modes of transport, but our challenge is that we are not attracting enough passengers away from other, more emission-heavy, ways of travelling.
The value of this challenge is clear.
HS1 alone prevents 750,000 tonnes of CO2 being released into the atmosphere every year, which is the equivalent of taking 60,000 short-haul flights out of the sky. Think of the potential here if we can get more people off planes and out of cars onto trains.
And we have the capability to do it now. Despite being a truly sustainable piece of infrastructure, HS1, Britain’s only high-speed line, is currently operating at 50% capacity. In passenger terms, our recent research shows that if our infrastructure was at full capacity, an additional 4.9 million people could travel by high-speed rail each year to existing international rail destinations or to potential new destinations such as Bordeaux, Cologne, Frankfurt and Geneva.
Such a change would represent a huge reduction in carbon emissions and shows how passengers moving to cleaner forms of transport can have a real impact on decarbonising the sector. If we can get an additional 4.9 million people to use the line every year, 450,000 more tonnes of CO2 can be prevented from being released into the atmosphere. It also presents the opportunity to make travel across Britain and into Europe net carbon zero before the government’s 2050 deadline. We could be a real Green Gateway to hundreds of international destinations.
That’s why we are using the global stage at COP26 to call on politicians, policy makers and professionals across a range of sectors to think about how we can achieve this modal shift to high-speed rail. While other forms of transport need to focus on finding solutions to making their services cleaner and greener, HS1 Ltd’s challenge is to encourage more people and businesses to choose the high-speed line, which was the first railway line to run entirely on renewable electricity.
This weekend, we will be convening a much-needed workshop for businesses and investors at the Summit’s side event World Climate Summit - The Investment COP, to seek solutions that will enable high-speed rail to reach its full potential. It is the perfect forum to highlight and discuss the barriers that are preventing consumers and business from choosing high-speed.
We know that success will require changes and improvements to the passenger experience. Change could be incentivised through a number of different areas. For example, making the passengers’ onward journey from the station to their final destination more convenient, using a luggage concierge service, or introducing a government subsidy when a business chooses the greener way to transport their goods.
The pandemic has given us a unique opportunity to change the way we travel and move goods from city to city. Decarbonisation is an absolute priority but shifting people and freight on to green rail has the potential for a much faster impact in our efforts to reach net zero.
We have the infrastructure in place and the capacity to deliver this shift, but we need to work collectively as a system in the rail sector and beyond to deliver the change we need for our planet. The role of high-speed rail cannot be ignored in the conversation about decarbonising the transport sector and creating a green transport revolution.