Rail Electrification

Electrified rail is cleaner, greener and quicker. ASLEF is campaigning for a rolling programme of electrification for Britain's railways.

ASLEF is campaigning for full electrification of Britain's railways

Currently only 42% of the railway is electrified.

This is significantly less than most of Western Europe.

The rest of the network runs on diesel, with the exception of a few small battery-powered lines.

Cleaner, Greener, Quicker

Electrified rail is significantly less polluting than diesel. The country is facing a climate crisis, and an urgent need to decarbonise transport in line with the Kyoto and Paris agreements. Electrifying the railway could go a long way towards supporting this goal.

Carbon emissions from diesel trains are not just potentially harming to drivers and passengers, but can also affect people waiting in stations and communities living near to the tracks.

Electric trains also weigh less than diesel trains (because they don't need to carry tanks full of fuel). This means they can accelerate faster, reducing the amount of time needed for station stops, and the lighter trains cause less wear and tear to the infrastructure. This in turn saves money on repair and renewal costs.

A graphic showing rail tracks and overhead electric wires. Over the top of the image are red boxes containing the text 'Electrified rail is cleaner, greener, quicker'

Alternative Power

As part of the government's decarbonisation challenge, proposals to use hydrogen and battery power as an alternative are being tested and there are some battery and hydrogen trains coming onto the line in the UK and Europe. This, however, will likely only ever be a solution for shorter, light passenger routes.

It is also important that where hydrogen is used as a way to power trains, that this is not just as a bolt-on to old and unsuitable rolling stock.

For freight and long-distance journeys there is no viable alternative to electrification that will be able to provide the required power.

Some trains are now running bi-mode (diesel/electric) or tri-mode (diesel/electric/battery) and while this provides a temporary fix it is far from ideal, as trains that could be using electricity are having to carry diesel fuel and switch traction part way through their journeys.

Cost Issues

Much is made of the cost of electrification, and the government has recently used cost as a reason to cancel several electrification projects either shortly before they were due to start, or part way through. The most striking examples of this are the great western mainline project which was due to reach Swansea but will now stop at Cardiff, and the downgrading of the Transpenine route improvements in Yorkshire.

The costs of electrification could be brought down significantly if the government was to implement a rolling programme of works. At the moment, piecemeal, individual projects each need to hire new strategists, train or upskill workers and set up supply chains every time. One ongoing national project would support the industry and give workers long-term employment security.

If this plan was developed as part of a proper industrial strategy, it would also be able to support UK manufacturing and jobs in a range of sectors in the supply chain.

Get involved in the campaign

We're encouraging everyone to write to the government and their MP to urge them to develop an ongoing programme of electrification of the railway, and to reverse the recent withdrawal of funding and cancellation of projects.

Click here to download our postcard to print out and send to the Secretary of State for Transport. Why not get your branch or community group involved?

A postcard with an electrified rail graphic on the front and the text of the sample letter to the Secretary of State on the reverse

To write to your MP, copy this sample letter or draft your own and send it by post or email (don't forget to include your name and home address, as MPs can only respond to their own constituents). Click here to find out who is your MP and how to contact them.


Dear [MP NAME],

I am writing to ask you to urge the government to develop an ongoing programme of electrification of the railway in Britain, and to reverse its recent withdrawal of funding and cancellation of several electrification projects part way through.

Electrified rail is cleaner, greener and quicker. It benefits rail users, communities near the tracks and the government’s goals to decarbonise transport. 

Electrification also remains the only viable option for decarbonising rail freight.

The government has the power to initiate this programme and the time is now as we look to save our planet for future generations.

For more information about the reasons why we should electrify the railways, please visit www.aslef.org/electrification

Yours sincerely,