Maggie Simpson, Executive Director, Rail Freight Group
“There is a limit to what we can achieve without more investment in electrification” – Maggie Simpson discusses sustainability and the future of British Rail
In the second instalment of our speaker spotlight series, we caught up with Maggie Simpson, Director General of the Rail Freight Group. Maggie joined the RFG in 2005 and has been a tireless advocate for rail freight, sustainability and supporting other women in rail. Ahead of Accelerate: Rail 2020 Maggie shares her thoughts on the crucial role freight will play in de-carbonising Britain.
As Director General of RFG, you come from a different perspective from most of our other attendees. Can you explain the role rail freight can play a part in de-carbonising Britain?
The rail freight sector is already acknowledged as a low carbon freight mode, because by moving many lorry loads with a single locomotive we are far less carbon intensive than road freight. We also help road congestion and safety, and make less air quality emissions than road. So the best way for rail to help decarbonise Britain is through modal shift, encouraging rail freight growth and bringing more companies onto rail.
What are the biggest challenges facing UK rail moving towards a more green system?
Rail freight trains are long and convey a lot of product. Our services are regularly 1500t – 2000t in weight, and in order to run on the congested rail network our locomotives need a lot of power. This means that alternative fuels such as battery or fuel cell do not yet have the capability for rail freight transport. We therefore need to make the case for more electrification of the key rail freight corridors and power supply upgrades to allow more freight to be electrically hauled. Last year there was a 12% increase in electrified haulage, but there is a limit to what we can achieve without more investment in electrification.
“We need to make the case for more electrification of the key rail freight corridors and power supply upgrades to allow more freight to be electrically hauled.”
Hydrogen trains: fad or future?
They are a really exciting innovation for some parts of the passenger railway, but the power output is insufficient for freight. But there might be other places that hydrogen (or battery) could be used if there is a distribution network established, for example in handling equipment or road vehicles.
Buzz-words like ‘de-carbonisation’ and ‘air quality’ come in and out of fashion, how can organisations in UK rail commit to taking steps to reduce their carbon footprint?
There has been a changing political environment around these issues, and the public pressure and understanding has never been higher. If we don’t take steps to maintain and improve our environmental performance we will lose the interest and support of our customer base – and no business can afford to do that.
And finally, which session at Accelerate: Rail 2020 are you most looking forwards to attending and why?
There is so much changing in the railways at the moment so I think we will all be spoilt for choice on which sessions to attend!
Interview conducted by Sasha Cotton, Conference Producer – Accelerate
Maggie Simpson is Director General of the Rail Freight Group, the representative body for rail freight in the UK. Since joining in 2005 she has worked to promote growth in rail freight and to support member companies of the Group in their activities.
She will join be joining a fireside chat titled ‘New rolling stock: revolutionising the railways’ at Accelerate: Rail, which will take place on 10 March 2020 at Hilton Tower Bridge, London.