Criticism for train battery programme in UK

The UK train battery programme is running out of juice, according to the House of Lords. While freight is being urged to decarbonise, the upper house of the UK parliament has criticised the government for lack of progress towards an all-electric railway.

A report on batteries and fuel cells, compiled by a special committee of the House of Lords, concludes that the Government’s actions do not align with its ambition to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. In addition to warnings about the future of the UK’s automotive industry, rail decarbonisation targets are not being met, says the report.

Accelerate electrification programme

The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee has published its report following an inquiry on batteries and fuel cells. The upper house of the UK parliament has oversight on matters debated in the House of Commons and requires the lower ‘House of Commons’ to meet its approval. The Committee has rebuked the government for its poor performance. “The Government must ensure that the railway electrification programme is accelerated”, says the report. “The development of battery and fuel cell trains should be supported to serve those parts of the network that remain non-electrified.”

Lord Patel chaired the House of Lords committee which produced the report into the lack of progress in battery technology and manufacture in the UK (House of Lords)

The Committee also calls for long-term commitments to give the UK a future competitive advantage in fuel cells and next-generation batteries. “Establishment of research and innovation institutions for fuel cells, to exploit the UK’s expertise and support UK companies to take a global lead”, demand the Lords. The Chair of the Committee, Lord Patel, said his committee had found that the Government’s ambition to reach net-zero emissions does not match its actions. “The Government must align its actions and rhetoric to take advantage of the great opportunity presented by batteries and fuel cells for UK research and manufacturing”, he said.

In line and in time for COP26

Industry reaction has been swift. David Clarke, Technical Director at the Railway Industry Association (RIA), representing the supply chain, welcomed the findings as a call to action. “It is good to see the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee backing the asks of RIA’s Rail Decarbonisation 21 campaign, which is calling for Government to commit to a rolling programme of electrification and fleet orders of battery and hydrogen rolling stock.”

Clarke said the report findings were in line with the government’s own Transport Decarbonisation Plan and came in good time ahead of the COP26 meeting in Glasgow in November. “This is now the third parliamentary committee to back the recommendations of RIA’s campaign, showing a head of steam amongst policymakers to deliver a clean, environmentally friendly, low carbon rail network. We look forward to working with Peers from across the political spectrum and the Government to support the Committee’s findings.”

Other key findings note a lack of static generation and shortcomings which may fatally wound the UK automotive industry – which, in turn, deprives UK rail freight operators of a lucrative specialist market and the UK of vital export earnings.

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Author: Simon Walton

Simon Walton is RailFreight's UK correspondent.

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