Net Zero

21 MAR 2022


Influential voices from politics, business and environmentalism have joined forces to set out the role of high speed rail in achieving net zero. 

A new report published by the High Speed Rail Group (HSRG), High Speed Rail: Net Zero Voices claims that given the transport sector is the nation’s largest single emitter of greenhouse gases, high speed rail has a significant responsibility to minimise its environmental impact through innovation, and ultimately to set new, higher standards for green transport.  

The report argues there is increasing recognition that high speed rail is an environmental pursuit as much as a transport and economic one. Right across the line of route, contractors are focusing on low-carbon construction methods, utilising the very latest technology and employing more environmental professionals into their teams than ever before. 

The impact of HS2 construction upon nature and habitats is being mitigated by an impressive nature restoration programme across the line of route. HS2’s flagship ‘Green Corridor’ along Phase One of the route has taken these efforts to the next level, restoring and enhancing habitats and delivering ecological connectivity on a mass scale, says the report. 

With road transport accounting for 67% of the transport sector’s greenhouse gas emissions, and rail just 1.4%, modal shift away from cars and planes towards rail will also have an important role to play in meeting net zero by 2050. Beneficial modal shift would rely on a more attractive alternative to road and short-haul air travel, combined with sufficient capacity to accommodate modal shift on a significant scale on trains. Uniquely, high speed rail offers precisely this combination.

The full list of contributors to the report and their articles are:

  • Andrew Stephenson MP, minister of state, department for transport: Foreword; 
  • Mark Thurston, CEO, HS2 Ltd.: Our plan to reach destination net zero;
  • Jacques Damas, CEO, Eurostar International Ltd: A modal shift success story which is far from over;
  • Melanie Horrocks, Greens4HS2: Interview with Melanie Horrocks; 
  • Anne-Sophie Duc Dodon, project management officer, Align Joint Venture: Constructing a net zero future;
  • Stephen Joseph, professor in transport planning at the University of Hertfordshire and trustee of the Foundation for Integrated Transport: High speed rail and net zero – the bigger picture;
  • Adam Crossley, director of environment, Skanska UK: Why collaboration is key to achieving net zero carbon;
  • Paul Tetlaw, convenor, policy forum and railspokesperson, Transform Scotland: Anglo-Scottish modal shift must be a net zero priority; 
  • Breffni Quinlivan, environment and sustainability director, Skanska Costain STRABAG Joint Venture: Decarbonising the delivery of Europe’s largest infrastructure project.

In his foreword to the report, HS2 minister Andrew Stephenson said: “As we accelerate towards net zero, it is right and proper that the country's biggest infrastructure project is tightly aligned with our commitments to reduce transport's carbon footprint. In that way, HS2 becomes not only an integral part of a net zero carbon transport sector, the most sustainable railway of its type in the world, but also an enabler for decarbonisation across the entire British economy.”

Mark Thurston, CEO of HS2 Ltd: “My colleagues and I at HS2 are well aware of the scale and the opportunity of the challenge that now lies ahead of us. We know it demands a step change in both the breadth and scale of our ambition, and our duty to act quickly and decisively to reduce our carbon emissions. We are completely focused on the task at hand.”

Jacques Damas, CEO of Eurostar International Ltd, said: “Across Europe, governments are starting to make moves to make rail the default option for short haul travel. With a passenger’s carbon footprint from one flight between Amsterdam and London the equivalent of seven Eurostar journeys, it is clear the impact this kind of approach can have.”

Melanie Horrocks, member of Greens4HS2: “I was taken in by the claims of the anti-HS2 lobby, because anyone with green credentials will find a phrase like ‘108 ancient woodlands are being destroyed’ very emotive. A lot of the standard soundbites make HS2 sound like a bad thing, but once you start breaking those down you can shed some light on the bigger picture.”

Anne-Sophie Duc Dodon, project management officer at the Align Joint Venture, said: “Building major infrastructure projects is all about leaving a legacy: in architecture, in engineering and in skills. However, one legacy we do not want to hand down to future generations is a significant carbon footprint. This commitment is at the heart of HS2’s plan to achieve net zero carbon construction and operation from 2035.”

Breffni Quinlivan, environment and sustainability director at the Skanska Costain STRABAG Joint Venture, said: “Sustainability and biodiversity are key foundations for the successful delivery of major projects and must be part of all projects from inception - being ahead of the curve is a necessity and sustainability cannot be retrospectively fitted into a programme.” 

Commenting on the publication of the report, a HSRG spokesperson said: “Our new report is demonstrative of the increasing breadth of support for HS2 on the basis of its environmental credentials. Investment in a truly national high speed rail network that connects the country north, south, east and west is one of the most tangible ways that we can drive forward our net zero ambitions.  

“HS2 will unlock a number of sustainable benefits, from low carbon construction, to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, congestion and air pollution, alongside biodiversity gains. With the climate emergency ongoing, now is not the time to be cutting back on plans to grow Britain’s high speed network, especially if the UK is serious about keeping the promises we made in Glasgow.”


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