UK energy crisis: Electric trains ditched for diesel as green power costs skyrockets 200%

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Rail freight operators are now reportedly being forced to halt their electric locomotives and revert back to diesel trains in a move set to increase carbon emissions and journey times. Logistic firms have said soaring wholesale energy prices and a boost to track access charges has made electric, low-carbon trains impossible to run at an affordable cost. The move comes as the COP26 climate summit approaches where world leaders will meet to discuss their climate goals, and it is likely to put Britain in a weaker position.

The Rail Freight Group, the industry voice for the sector said: “Some operators have had to take the regrettable decision to temporarily move back to diesel locomotives.”

It comes after electricity prices triples as the UK tumbles into an energy crisis, with gas prices rising to record highs too.

The crisis has pushed some energy firms over the edge, with Pure Planet, which is backed by oil giant BP, and Colorado joining the list of energy firms recently going bust.

Pure Planet supplies gas and electricity to around 235,000 domestic customers, while Colorado Energy has around 15,000 domestic customers.

Diesel freight train

Diesel freight train (Image: Getty)

Electric train

Electric train (Image: PA)

Other companies to go bust include Avro Energy, People’s Energy and Green Supplier Limited.

Their collapses came as rising prices sent shocks to supply chains.

But while electricity prices soar and diesel makes a comeback, Rail Freight Group pointed out that only emitted over three-quarters less carbon than road haulage even when using diesel locomotives.

A Rail Freight Group spokesperson said: “The current significant increase in the wholesale cost of electricity for haulage means that some operators have had to take the regrettable decision to temporarily move back to diesel locomotives.

“A 200 percent increase in electricity costs for each train cannot be absorbed by the operators, or customers, and so necessary action is being taken to ensure that trains can continue to operate delivering vital goods across the country.

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BP

Pure Planet, which is backed by oil giant BP, went bust (Image: PA)

“Our members are assuring us that this is a temporary measure and will be kept under constant review.”

Freightliner, a major rail company and considered one of the “big four”, announced it has been forced to switch back to diesel.

It called the move a “difficult decision” after temporarily halting its electric services to stay “cost-effective”.

Freightliner said in a statement: “As a result of soaring prices on the UK’s wholesale electricity market, the price Network Rail charges us to operate electric train services has increased by more than 210 per cent between September and October.

“This unprecedented rise in electricity charges has resulted in a sharp increase in the cost of operating electric freight services.”

“As a result, Freightliner has taken the difficult decision to temporarily replace electric freight services with diesel-hauled services, in order to maintain a cost-effective option for transporting vital goods and supplies across the UK.”

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Gas hob

Gas prices have soared through the roof (Image: Getty)

Electricity grid

Industry voices are “worried” about the impacts of rising electricity costs (Image: Getty )

Energy UK chief executive Emma Pinchbeck has now said the industry is “worried” that rising electricity costs could have a big impact on customers around the UK, but that consequences are currently “unclear”.

A spokesperson for Network Rail, the government-owned company that manages rail infrastructure in Great Britain, said: “Electricity costs for Network Rail and passenger operators were negotiated some time ago and are fixed for this year and most of next.

“A few operators, however, are subject to the current market wholesale price of electricity, which Network Rail passes on directly at cost. Despite this, rail remains the most carbon-efficient means of moving large quantities of both freight and people around the country.”

The soaring cost of electricity costs came after wholesale gas prices went through the roof due to a combination of factors.

A cold winter meant soaring demand, as did the reponing of global economies as COVID-19 restrictions were relaxed.

And Russian President Vladimir Putin has restricted the flow of gas travelling into Europe through gas pipelines, while fires at power stations all cultivated the crisis the UK is now facing.

The UK has now been forced to refire old coal power plants as energy security decreases, not bidding well for lowering carbon emissions as COP26 approaches with two weeks to go.