ScotRail's plans for all electric or hydrogen train fleet are exciting, but we still need to keep our feet on the ground – Scotsman comment

For decades, catching a train in Scotland came with the risk of being caught by an acrid blast of diesel exhaust.

A Vivarail battery train near the Forth Bridge which was demonstrated during the COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow last November (Picture: Network Rail)
A Vivarail battery train near the Forth Bridge which was demonstrated during the COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow last November (Picture: Network Rail)

It was an occasional and unpleasant reminder of what we were throwing up into the atmosphere that we have suffered, then forgotten about, for far too long.

Now, however, ScotRail has announced plans to spend hundreds of millions of pounds on transforming its entire fleet over the next 13 years so that it is powered either by electricity or hydrogen. All its diesel trains are to be scrapped, with the first of the new engines coming into service in 2027.

In the future, the air we breathe will be cleaner, fresher and sweeter – and that alone is worth celebrating.

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However, there are other, more serious reasons for the change as ScotRail’s service delivery director David Simpson acknowledged when he said they were “aware of our responsibility to help Scotland meet its ambition to be a world leader on tackling climate change”.

This is also good news for train builders and the supply companies who will fulfil this glut of new orders. In addition to this extra business, they have a chance to develop electric trains and technologies that are sought after the world over, as other countries go through the same process of decarbonisation.

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Huge ScotRail train orders in pipeline to create all-green fleet

As has been noted many times before, the transition to net-zero carbon emissions represents a business opportunity on an extraordinary scale.

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Success in business can often come down to predicting future markets and the increasingly urgent need to stop the rise in greenhouse gas emissions and then reduce them to zero in the space of a few decades represents an “instance of the fingerpost” – to quote the title of Iain Pears’ excellent novel – that we must not miss.

We are entering a new Industrial Revolution and, just like the coal-powered, 18th-century one that turned the UK into a global superpower, making sure we are at its cutting edge is essential to our economic fortunes.

However, before we get carried away by grand visions, we still need to keep our feet firmly on the ground and ensure that we get the basics right.

And, as far as trains are concerned, that means services have to be reliable, on time, and not constantly disrupted by strike action.

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