toggle nav


Action needed now to deliver zero-emission Scottish railway by 2030: Climate Emergency response ‘Vision 2030: Clean Rail’

Published 02 September 2019 by Transform Scotland



Monday 2 September 2019

Transform sets out Climate Emergency response ‘Vision 2030: Clean Rail’

Transform Scotland, the voice of sustainable transport, has today (Monday 2nd) published a new ‘vision paper’ setting out its Climate Emergency response for Scotland’s railways. [1] [2]

Transform’s team of rail experts have concluded that the Scottish railway could be decarbonised by 2030, for around £2.5 billion, with multiple benefits to the nation. [5] However, in order to realise this vision, work needs to start now to deliver a zero-emission railway by 2030.

* Rail is already a clean form of travel, with 75% of passengers travelling on zero-emission trains in Scotland.
* 96% of ScotRail’s passengers could travel on electric (or zero-emission) trains by electrifying the routes from the Central Belt to Aberdeen and Inverness.
* To complete the vision, diesel trains on the long rural routes need to be replaced, with today’s technology these could be hydrogen or battery.

Transform rail expert David Prescott, who advised on the ‘vision,’ said:

“By 2030, three-quarters of our diesel trains will need replacing as they reach the end of their working life. Whether Scotland is to be able to choose zero-emission trains to replace them depends on decisions taken today.

“If the Scottish Government is serious about tackling the Climate Emergency, a complete rolling programme of rail electrification to enable passengers and freight to travel emission free must start today. The whole rolling programme needs to start now — not just one section, or a token gesture. It is mapped already and will take ten years to deliver, so must start now. Hesitation could mean spend on fossil-fuelled trains in 2030 that run into 2060s.

“Scotland must decarbonise our railways by 2030 to make an important contribution to our ambition of a net-zero emission Scotland by 2045.”

Class 385 trains by ScotRail Alliance (CC BY-SA 2.0)



Electric trains (‘Class 385s’), introduced on the main Edinburgh-Glasgow route, are already reducing journey times, reducing air pollution in our cities and providing a quality, reliable alternative to the car. Decisions made over ten years ago, in 2008, led to these clean trains being introduced into operation by 2018.

Infrastructure investment decisions today will impact upon our rolling stock choices in 2030, and determine whether our railways are on track for a net-zero emission nation in 2045.

Rail is already a better choice for the planet than car. We have ten years to decarbonise the railway completely, to build a better railway to attract passengers and freight off our roads. There would be two wins. A zero-emission railway, plus encouraging more freight and passengers to move from road to rail.


Priority needs to go to electrification of the express routes from the Central Belt to Aberdeen and Inverness to see shorter journey times and more freight move from road to rail. Trains on the long rural routes will require a new form of self-powered unit to replace current diesel trains by the late 2020s. With today’s technology these could be battery or hydrogen.

Interim replacement of diesel trains on some suburban routes could be achieved now with battery fitted Electrical Multiple Units (BEMUs), until electrification is delivered in the longer-term.

Transform’s spokesperson Jess Pepper said:

“We want a clean, affordable, public transport system that works for everyone across Scotland.

“Three-quarters of Scottish diesel trains will need replaced by 2030. The infrastructure has to be in place to ensure that zero-emission trains can run on our railways. A rolling programme to do the required electrification will take ten years, so work must start now to hit this target. The programme is ready. It was mapped in 2008 and now, it needs to happen. If Scottish Government are serious about the Climate Emergency, they will action it today.

“Scotland’s track record has an enviable record on innovation in trains and rail electrification. In the past, Scotland has pioneered electric solutions, including battery-driven trains as early as the 1950s, and it is a leader in electrification of the rail network in the UK. The Climate Emergency means that there is a need for urgent action, and it is time for Scotland to lead again.

“Transport emissions have not reduced in 30 years. In a Climate Emergency, it is the action taken now that really matters. Moving passengers and freight from road to rail is one of the most effective actions we can take to reduce emissions, today. Enabling everyone to move around on a zero emission network is just within reach, but only if government acts now.”

Transform’s ‘vision paper’ is available at:

Transform’s full report on the findings and costings will be submitted as a contribution to the national #BigClimateConversation. The full report will be introduced to MSPs this autumn to inform the debate around the response to the Climate Emergency.



[1] Transform Scotland is the national alliance for sustainable transport, bringing together rail, bus and ferry operators, local authorities, national environment and conservation groups, businesses and local transport groups — see <> for details.

[2] Transform Scotland have been working with members and industry experts on papers articulating a fair, net-zero vision for 2030 and a route map to getting there. The next focus will be on bus.

[3] Scotland needs investment in a decarbonised public transport system which provides options for everyone for active and sustainable travel, as well as multiple benefits for our health, economy, society and planet.

[4] Transform Scotland has been supported by funding from Paths for All, from the Smarter Choices Smarter Places to do research behind this vision for active and sustainable transport, and all the multiple benefits that this will produce for our health, economy, society and planet.

[5] Expert assessment is that the entire electrification programme could be completed for less than £2.5 billion (methodology in line with the Railway Industry Association assessments for the UK) and it would be further cost of rolling stock (for long rural routes) that would enable everyone to access to zero-emission trains. The costs to Scottish Government (of infrastructure) have been assessed – any future rolling stock would be a cost to operator as usual.

[6] To fail to act will mean rolling stock decisions, and spend on more fossil-fuelled trains, will be the default position in 2030 and these could run into 2060s.

[7] Scottish Government must ensure that Scottish rail should be powered completely by Scottish zero-emission electricity, not UK electricity which is still produced by fossil fuels, including coal.