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Network Rail aims to reduce its energy use by almost one fifth and carbon emissions by a quarter in non-traction activities over the next five years. Those are considerable and ambitious targets.

But, as the new Control Period 6 (CP6) gets underway, the Environment is just one issue fighting for airtime on a long list challenges for managing the 20,000 miles of UK’s track infrastructure.

Network Rail looks likely to have met its 11% carbon emissions target for CP5, but to meet a 25% target is going to need a consistent and determined effort to increase use of renewable energy, year on year.  To be truly deliverable, using solar, or other low-carbon plant, must also be cost comparable with conventional methods for all those contractors now celebrating their appointments to regional CP6 delivery frameworks.

Diesel Reliance

Reliance on diesel generation, with consequent carbon, NOx and PM emissions, has long been unavoidable to supply heat, power and lighting where there is no opportunity to connect to mains electricity. Not only does diesel use add to carbon footprint, the fumes and noise have implications for worker health and safety.

Trackside, bridge and station works often must take place at night or during blockades at sensitive holiday times, such as Christmas. With some 22m people living or working less than 500m from the railway, Network Rail’s CP6 Strategic Business Plan makes is clear that being a good neighbour is of paramount importance. Diesel generation is noisy as well as polluting, even using the most modern plant.

So could trackside working ever be diesel-free?

We’ve been greatly encouraged by the way our main contractor rail delivery customers, such as Colas Rail, are pro-actively and creatively seeking to work with us to find ways of reducing diesel use. In response to customer requests, we’ve developed a new rechargeable battery-powered link lighting system, ProTrack specifically for the needs of trackside working.

And yes, one project in Westbury, Wiltshire, went entirely diesel free for lighting during the 2018/19 Christmas blockade, using a range of Prolectric’s products including the ProLight solar power light and ProTrack solar/battery powered link lighting. As a result, up to 25 tonnes of CO2e and 9,500 litres of diesel were saved over the two-week period.

No Extra Cost

At the moment, it may not be possible to go completely diesel free on every project – but we can already confidently expect to work with contractors to achieve significant reductions in carbon emissions – typically up to 80%. Importantly, those reductions can be achieved at no extra cost to the contractor compared to using conventional diesel technologies.

As battery technology, LED lighting and solar know-how all develop in future, we’ll continuing to work with our rail contractor customers to deliver innovative diesel-free solutions that support Network Rail’s long-term Sustainable Development Strategy. Then, perhaps one day, in the non-so-distant future, the majority of rail renewal projects really will be diesel free.