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Scottish Government urged to ditch ‘gas guzzling’ high speed trains

Environmentalists have told the Scottish Government to replace a fleet of “gas guzzling” high speed trains — which require three times as much energy as a standard diesel train — when it takes over ScotRail in March. 

Twenty six refurbished high speed trains (HSTs) — which are diesel-powered and leased from a company in England — have been introduced to ScotRail’s services since October 2018. This fulfilled a promise made by the company’s operator, Abellio, when it took over Scotland’s railways in 2015.

But these HSTs have a much larger carbon footprint than the rest of ScotRail’s trains. They produced 19 per cent of the carbon emissions from the company’s trains in 2020, despite making up just seven per cent of the trains in ScotRail’s fleet.

Green campaigners told The Ferret that the HSTs were “clearly a lot more damaging to the climate than the rest of the fleet in Scotland”. The Scottish Government should prioritise “getting rid” of the trains, particularly when it is encouraging people to use public transport to minimise their climate impact, they added. 

Transport Scotland — the Scottish government’s national transport agency — said that it was aiming to replace the HSTs with zero-emission alternatives by 2030, while all diesel trains would be phased out of its services by 2035. 

The leased high speed trains are clearly a lot more damaging to the climate than the rest of the fleet in Scotland, so when the Scottish Government takes over the franchise, they’ll need to start by getting rid of these gas guzzling trains.

Gavin Thomson, transport campaigner at Friends of the Earth Scotland

The HSTs require over 18 kilowatt hours of energy for every kilometre that they travel. Standard diesels need just over 6 kilowatt hours for every kilometre, while electric trains need just under two kilowatt hours. 

ScotRail does not publish figures on the carbon emissions produced by the HSTs, standard diesels and electric trains per kilometre. However, given that the HSTs run on diesel fuel, and require three times the energy of a standard diesel, it is likely that their emissions are significantly higher. 

The 26 HSTs produced the equivalent of nearly 26,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions in 2020. By comparison, Scotrail’s 118 diesel trains produced 63,640 tonnes of emissions, while its 235 electric trains produced 45,884 tonnes.

The refurbished HSTs are known as Inter7City trains because they travel between Scotland’s seven cities. 

They were previously leased by Great Western Railway (GWR) in Wales and the West of England and first came into service in 1976. After being put out of action by GWR, their interiors and doors were refurbished by the English firm, Angel Trains, who leased them to ScotRail.

The Scottish Government is set to take over the running of Scotland’s railways at the end of March. Abellio has run the franchise since 2015 but had its contract ended early amid criticism over cancellations and poor performance levels. 

Transport is Scotland’s highest emitting sector, producing the equivalent of 12 million tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2019. Encouraging more people to travel by train rather than car is viewed as a key way of reducing transport pollution.

Gavin Thomson, transport campaigner at Friends of the Earth Scotland, said that the emissions from travel show “we need to make urgent changes to the way we move around”. 

Scottish Government
Transport is Scotland’s highest emitting sector, producing the equivalent of 12 million tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2019. Photo credit: iStock/jax10289

“Making public transport as accessible as possible is a vital part of this, so it’s important the climate impact of our trains is considered a priority as we encourage more people to use them,” Thomson noted. 

“The leased high speed trains are clearly a lot more damaging to the climate than the rest of the fleet in Scotland, so when the Scottish Government takes over the franchise, they’ll need to start by getting rid of these gas guzzling trains.

“A fleet of electric trains is essential if Scotland is to meet our climate commitments, and for this to make a real difference we need to see the electrification of lines around the country being sped up, so those living outside the central belt aren’t left behind.”

A spokesperson for ScotRail said the company was “aware of our responsibility to help Scotland meet its ambition to be a world leader on tackling climate change”.

They added: “That’s why all diesel trains will be taken out of service over the next 15 years through the decarbonisation of the rail infrastructure. 

“Our fleet of High Speed Inter7City trains, which operate on routes connecting Scotland’s seven cities, are expected to be replaced by a non-diesel powered train prior to 2035.”

A Transport Scotland spokesperson said: “All 147 diesel powered trains in the ScotRail fleet will be replaced by 2035. 

“We plan to replace the 25 High Speed Trains by 2030 with zero emission fleets, dependent on progress with the developing programme of electrification and rolling stock capabilities of battery and hydrogen powered fleets.” 

This story was updated at 09:22 on 12 February 2022 to reflect that the trains were leased, not owned, by Great Western Railway, which operates in Wales and the West of England.

The Ferret received a freedom of information response from ScotRail on 29th April 2022 which showed that the HSTs emit 4.28kg of carbon per kilometre travelled, far more than any other train in its fleet. The response can be viewed below.

Photo credit: iStock/jax10289

2 comments
  1. Sorry to be a bit pedantic but the HSTs were never owned by GWR but we’re leased to them by the same company leasing the trains to ScotRail. Also GWR operate trains to Wales and the West of England – not the Midlands.

  2. I think this article is based on a false premise – you are comparing the fuel consumption of diesel multiple units to those of a locomotive. The figures for 158s, 170s etc. are fuel use per vehicle. But the HST figure is per locomotive – these typically will be used in trains of 2 locomotives and 5 unpowered trailer carriages. To make a like for like comparison on emissions per passenger vehicle basis you should multiply the HST emissions by 2 (two power cars per set) and then divide by 5 (the 5 passenger carriages), at which point you’ll see the emissions while still higher are broadly comparable…

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