Although overall rail emissions are low in Britain, accounting for only 4% of nitrogen oxides and 2% of particulates from transport, emissions at specific locations are higher, increasing long-term health risks.

The framework aims to provide a robust and risk-based strategy for the industry to reduce their shared environmental impact, and comprises three key points:

  • modelling: aiming to improve understanding of the risks at a local level
  • mitigating: aiming to ensure that effective measures are taken to reduce emissions, and
  • monitoring: aiming to regularly monitoring emissions and ensure improvements.

The industry has committed to providing annual reports on progress within the new framework, and the new guidelines have been received warmly.

According to Mr Steve Enright, director of safety, sustainability and security at transport operator Abellio: “The Air Quality Strategy Framework sets the future path for rail to significantly reduce harmful pollutant emissions that could affect passengers, staff and the general public. Underpinned by a collaborative research programme, the framework will ensure that rail remains one of the cleanest forms of transport in the UK.”

In the wake of improved air quality during the coronavirus pandemic, reducing air pollution remains a top priority for rail firms, and the framework goes some way to addressing these concerns.

“The public’s appetite for improving air quality is only likely to increase following the reduction in air pollution during the coronavirus crisis,” says Ms Maggie Simpson, director general of the Rail Freight Group (RFG). “This will give rail freight customers confidence in choosing a mode of transport which not only takes lorries off the roads and out of the hearts of communities but is serious about further improving its own air quality.”

Despite welcoming this warm reception, the RSSB was quick to add that more work will be needed. “There is a great deal that remains unclear,” says Mr Anthony Perret, head of the organisation’s Sustainable Development Programme. “However, the Air Quality Strategy Framework is a transparent step in the right direction for the industry and I am excited to see what results we will be able to share in just over a year.”

The Air Quality Strategy Framework is part of a wider strategy by the RSSB which also includes the Air Quality Steering Group, a research initiative comprised of various members of the British rail industry.