Assessing the CO2 impact of current and future rail track in the UK

R. L. Milford, J. M. Allwood

This paper investigates the CO2 impact of current and future UK rail track and estimates the material, process and transport emissions associated with construction, maintenance and end-of-life activities for designs at high and low traffic loads. Analysis shows that for current track configurations, track with concrete sleepers has the lowest CO2 impact, followed by steel, hardwood and softwood. Several potential future rail track designs have been analysed including embedded rail and double and quadruple-headed rail. All future track designs have a lower impact than current designs, but this improvement is more marked at high traffic loads. Up to a 40% reduction in CO2 impact could be achieved if the UK rail network was to move from conventional track design to a double-headed embedded rail design. Key levers for reducing the CO2 impact of track are identified as service life extension, traffic load reduction and the selection of low impact track designs.