Rail Freight Workshop

26 February 2018

Melanie Hobson and Mark Gibbs of Aether facilitated a workshop on rail freight emissions hosted by the Freight Transport Association in London on the 21st of February.  As air quality issues attract increasing public scrutiny, this is a topic of pressing interest to the whole rail freight industry as evidenced by the attendance of representatives from all major stakeholder organisations, including freight train operators, DfT, Network Rail, RDG, RFG, ORR and RSSB.

Aether compiles the rail emissions component of the UK National Atmospheric Emissions Inventory.  Mark and Melanie presented on the current methodology and underlying data used to estimate rail freight emissions at the national level, and on how the resulting outputs are of limited use for air quality studies at the local level or for transport mode comparisons.  The ongoing development of low emission and electric road vehicles means the gap between road and rail is decreasing: the previously generally accepted environmental advantages of rail freight will likely diminish over the next decades, while the prominence of rail emissions, particularly in a key local settings, will rise.  Meaningful “apples to apples” comparisons are something that rail freight customers are increasingly requiring in order to fully understand the impact of their operations on emissions throughout the supply chain.

There was a strong commitment from industry representatives to collaborate by providing data that is already available in some form within different organisations.  Utilizing such data on engine performance and traffic flows on key routes would be a cost-effective way to help develop more accurate and defensible emission estimates.  These would better reflect locomotive fleet utilisation, changes in trainloads and freight train pathing (e.g., time waiting in sidings).

The next steps will be planning the implementation of the identified potential improvements, including making relatively quick refinements to the national inventory, devising a tractable approach to harnessing more granular data, and ground-truthing with robust emissions measurements of real-world freight trains drive cycles.  It was widely acknowledged by attendees that good quality emissions data will be a crucial foundation for effective future investment and policy decisions that will address the rail freight industry’s impact on air quality.

Photo credit: © Copyright Phil Sangwell

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