Plans for train line to go electric by 2040

The rail line from Norwich to Ely could be electrified by the middle of the century as part of a government-backed Network Rail plan to shunt polluting diesel trains off the nation’s railways.

Branch lines from Norwich to Great Yarmouth, Lowestoft and Sheringham as well as the East Suffolk line to Ipswich would be operated by hydrogen-powered trains by 2050 – the only “exhaust” they leave is water.

Network Rail has drawn up a plan that would see the main cross-country line from Felixstowe to the Midlands, which is used by dozens of freight trains every day and includes the section from Ely to Peterborough through March, electrified by 2040.

The government is committed to phasing out “diesel-only” trains by 2040.

The Greater Anglia bimodes would be allowed to continue operating under those regulations because they can be powered by both diesel and electricity. By 2050 diesel will be banned altogether.

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It would be possible to removed the diesel engine from the bimode trains and replace it with a hydrogen unit – but by 2050 the trains will be 30 years old and it will be for engineers then to decide whether it is worthwhile extending their lives.

Network Rail has produced a 250-page plan outlining the proposals.

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In its foreword, senior manager Paul McMahon says: “Much more work will be needed beyond the Strategy, including the development of regional delivery plans, but this document outlines the journey we must take together.

“We must now move forward with focus, determination and collective will to see rail rise to the climate change challenge and to maintain its position as a critical and environmentally-friendly mode of transport.”

The report says that the main cross-country route would have to be electrified because electric locomotives are the only alternative to diesels for long-distance freight trains.

The Ely to Norwich line could be operated by hydrogen trains – but the increased number of services makes electrification a reasonable option, and it could be used by more freight services in the future.

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