Achieving a net-zero carbon railway

Dr Nazmiye Ozkan, Cranfield University
Dr Xin Zhang, Cranfield University
Dr Jahedul Islam Chowdhury, Cranfield University

The development of the East-West rail network across the Oxford-Milton Keynes-Cambridge arc is seen essential to contribute to the UK’s economic growth. Yet, the UK government’s commitment to become a net-zero economy by 2050 requires this large infrastructure project to be planned net-zero from the start. While the construction industry has been developing innovative, low carbon solutions these aren’t assessed in terms of their applicability to the railway projects. Moreover, the incorporation of solar photovoltaic (PV) panels and the use of fuel cell or electric motors can help with reducing railway emissions at the operational phase.

This paper develops a framework for the development a net-zero railway line through innovative solutions for construction, including both material and operational efficiency, and the utilisation of renewable resources along the railway tracks, in train roofs and the sleepers and at train stations. Energy storage options are evaluated to provide flexibility for the electrified railway. In line with circular economy principles, we find scope for use of recycled steel, composite materials and new cement in the construction phase Our analysis reveals that the installation of solar PV panels along the embankments and cuttings, at four train station rooftops and the trains themselves can meet 22.2% of the total electrical load of the system. Yet, this is the most optimistic scenario as it assumes all the land around the railway tracks be utilised. Further research could shed light on their technical and economic feasibility.

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