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Carbon – putting Britain on track to a net zero carbon future

HS2 will support the UK’s transition to a net zero carbon economy

CGI image of the interior of a station under a large roof arch with a concourse below.
Birmingham Curzon Street station will be at the heart of the low carbon railway.

Transitioning to a net zero carbon economy

In June 2019, the UK became the first major economy in the world to pass laws to end its contribution to global climate change by 2050. As one of the most sustainable high speed railways in the world, HS2 will support the UK in making the transition to a net zero carbon economy. We will minimise carbon emissions as we build, deliver low carbon journeys and cut carbon emissions from other forms of transport.

The Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP, Secretary of State for Transport, says:

Transport has a huge role to play in the economy reaching net zero. The scale of the challenge demands a step change in both the breadth and scale of ambition and we have a duty to act quickly and decisively to reduce emissions.

On this page you will learn about:

  • Why HS2 journeys will be low carbon,
  • Why HS2 will reduce carbon emissions from other modes of transport,
  • How HS2 stations will be energy efficient and low carbon in operation,
  • How HS2’s carbon footprint for the construction and operation of Phase One, over a 120 year period, will emit less carbon than the UK road network does in one month.

In addition, there is also further information on sustainability assessment and quality assurance, and links to Environmental Statements and Information Papers.

HS2 journeys will be low carbon

Rail is by far the most carbon efficient mass transit transport system available.

HS2 will be the backbone of our national rail network, delivering better connections between eight out of ten of Britain’s largest cities, more than doubling the number of seats available from Euston in peak hours, and carrying over 300,000 people a day or 100 million passengers a year

Graphic showing a plane emitting 170g of carbon per person per kilometre, a car emitting 67g, high speed train 8g.
The figure is based on projections of vehicle emissions and usage in 2030, as published in our 2013 Phase One Environmental Statement. We compare projected carbon emissions for HS2 in 2030 with projected carbon emissions from cars in 2030 and domestic fights in 2030.

Powering HS2 trains

HS2 trains will be highly energy efficient and powered by a grid that uses increasing amounts of energy from zero carbon sources, for example renewable energy from solar and wind generation. In future, with the grid supplying 100% zero carbon energy, journeys on HS2 will be zero carbon.

Environmentally Responsible Travel

HS2 will be a cleaner, greener way to travel, offering some of the lowest carbon emissions per passenger kilometre, significantly less than cars and domestic air travel.

HS2 will reduce carbon emissions from other modes of transport

In 2017, the transport sector overtook the energy sector to become the UK’s largest carbon emitter.

Cars

In 2017, road traffic accounted for 91% of transport emissions. In the same year cars, taxis and light vans were responsible for 70% of road transport emissions.

Car miles grew from 255 billion vehicle miles per year in 1990 to 328 billion vehicle miles in 2018, a rise of 28%.

By moving high speed trains on to a new, dedicated intercity line, HS2 will free up space on the existing rail network to run more local and regional commuter trains.

With more reliable, local frequent stopping services available, people will be able to make the shift from road to rail and cut their carbon footprint. This will help to reduce emissions from road transport, reduce congestion and improve the quality of our air.

Planes

HS2 is a cleaner, greener alternative to domestic aviation.

Not all aviation is international. HS2 can play a major role in reducing domestic flights between Britain’s core cities. The full Y-network will serve over 25 stations connecting around 30 million people and significantly improve connectivity from Scotland, through to the Midlands and the South East.

People are more likely to make the shift from plane to train if rail journeys are faster, frequent and more reliable, with a reduced carbon footprint. HS2 meets all these demands.

High speed rail lines can reduce aviation transport on the same routes by as much as 80%, according to the International Energy Agency.

The chart below shows the average change in passenger activity on selected air routes after new high speed rail lines opened.

Chart displaying Average change in passenger activity on selected air routes after high-speed rail implementation.
Average change in passenger activity on selected air routes after high speed rail implementation. Source: International Energy Agency, The Future of Rail, 2019. Note: The periods of time vary from line to line in this figure, which needs to be taken into account when comparing these routes.

Lorries

Heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) cause congestion on our roads, emit significant amounts of carbon and impact air quality. In 2017, HGVs were responsible for 17% of all road transport carbon emissions while making up just 5% of vehicle miles.

By moving high speed trains onto a new, dedicated intercity line, HS2 will free up space on the existing rail network to carry more goods via freight trains.

According to the Rail Delivery Group, every freight train could take up to 76 lorries off the road.

Transporting freight by rail reduces carbon emissions by 76% compared to road haulage.

HS2 will enable a shift from road freight to rail freight, decarbonising the UK transport sector and supporting the transition to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Graphic showing that 76 lorries of freight can be carried on one freight train.
Shifting freight from road transport to rail transport will help decarbonise the UK’s transport sector.

HS2 stations will be energy efficient and low carbon in operation

HS2’s stations will be amongst the most sustainable stations in the world. The four stations that will be built between London and Crewe will be designed to utilise renewable technologies to minimise carbon.

HS2 will maximise energy efficiency in its stations and buildings

In order to deliver a sustainable railway and associated buildings, we will minimise energy demand and consumption.

As part of our commitment to managing our carbon footprint, HS2 has set ambitious targets for our supply chain to minimise the whole life carbon emissions of our assets including buildings.
When designing and delivering our stations and depots our contractors are expected to apply an energy hierarchy.

  • First, they will reduce energy demand: they should aim to eliminate the need for energy demand in the first place. This can be achieved at design stage, for example, by optimising natural daylight and ventilation. Demand for energy can also be minimised through smart controls, for example, installing building management systems which monitor and control heating, ventilation and lighting.
  • Secondly, our stations and depots should be energy efficient: we ask our contractors to find ways to minimise energy consumption. Options to achieve this can include using energy efficient systems, correct use and implementation of good maintenance practices.
  • Having taken all reasonable steps to minimise energy demand and improve efficiency, the next stage is to supply any demand for energy from renewable and sustainable energy sources. This could include installing solar panels or integrating with local energy centres or district heating networks.
  • Where energy demand cannot be met entirely by renewable and sustainable, energy sources, our contractors should use low carbon energy sources.
  • Only if all other options have been exhausted should conventional energy sources be used. This is the least sustainable option.

Case study: HS2’s Interchange station

CGI aerial view of new station with connections to local transport.
Solihull's Interchange station is designed to maximise sustainability.

HS2’s Interchange station, to be built in Solihull and near the NEC in the West Midlands, has become the first railway station globally to achieve the BREEAM ‘Outstanding’ certification – a measure of sustainability for new and refurbished buildings – putting it in the top 1% of buildings in the UK for eco-friendly credentials.

The station will achieve net zero carbon emissions from day-to-day energy consumption. Its design minimises carbon emissions through the use of natural ventilation and daylight. Energy efficient technology will be incorporated, such as air source heat pumps and LED lighting. In addition, the station and Automated People Mover maintenance facility will source energy from over 2,000 m2 of solar panels generating zero carbon electricity. There will be 222 electric vehicle charging points, and cycle storage for 176 bicycles with further room for expansion as demand dictates. There will also be dedicated pedestrian access into the station via a mixture of dedicated routes.

HS2’s construction carbon footprint

Hybrid-powered excavator in use.
Hybrid powered excavator used at HS2's Euston preparatory works.

Many features of the new railway, such as tunnels, bridges, viaducts and underpasses, have been included to minimise or reduce environmental, noise and visual effects. Whilst the construction of these will inevitably create carbon emissions, we are committed to minimising HS2’s overall carbon footprint.

To put HS2’s carbon footprint into perspective, the construction and operation of Phase One of HS2 over a 120 year period, will emit less carbon than the UK road network does in 1 month (based on 2017 road transport emissions data).

More information on the carbon footprint reported in the Phase One Environmental Statements can be found in the Phase One Carbon Information Paper.

Carbon reduction targets for HS2 Ltd and our supply chain

Before we design or construct any aspect of the railway (such as stations, tunnels, bridges or the rail track) we work out its carbon baseline. By doing this, we can establish the areas with the greatest potential for reduction, work out how to reduce carbon in design, construction and operation, and measure reductions against those baselines.

By setting a 50% carbon reduction target on construction baselines for Phase One civil assets (such as tunnels, viaducts and cuttings), stations and railway system, we can empower and challenge HS2 Ltd and our supply chain to innovate to reduce carbon.

HS2 is using the global standard for reducing carbon in infrastructure

As part of our commitment to minimising our carbon footprint, we are working to the global standard for reducing carbon in infrastructure: PAS 2080.

The PAS 2080 framework assesses the whole construction process and aims to reduce carbon and cost through intelligent design, construction and use. Before we design or build any aspect of the new high speed railway we ask:

  • Is there a build nothing solution? We evaluate the basic need for an asset or programme of works and explore alternative ways to achieve the same outcome;
  • Can we build less? We evaluate the potential for re-using and/or refurbishing existing assets to reduce the extent of new construction required;
  • Can we build clever? We consider the use of low carbon solutions (including new technologies materials and products) to minimise resource consumption during construction and operation;
  •  How can we build efficiently? We use techniques that reduce resource consumption during the construction and operation phases of an asset or programme of work.

Applying PAS 2080 during construction, minimising energy and using renewable energy wherever possible, will enable HS2 to reduce its carbon footprint. Here’s an example of how we are applying these principles.

Building cleverly – Old Oak Common Station roof

CGI of exterior of station showing its gently arching roof above the concourse.
Old Oak Common Station's exterior concourse linking it to the local transport interchange

Our designers have achieved a 27% reduction in the structural steel required to build the station roof. Following the results from wind tunnel tests and a snow load review, the team of structural design engineers and architects, concluded that structural thicknesses and profiles in the station roof could be modified to allow for 27% less material to be used, with a total steel reduction of over 1,000 tonnes. This is equivalent to a 2,700 tonne reduction in carbon, and a cost saving of £7m.

Assurance and further information

Quality assurance

HS2 Ltd has been recognised for its plans to minimise the project’s environmental impact. We were awarded an ISO 14001 certificate from Lloyd’s Register of Quality Assurance for our work in areas such as carbon emissions, air and water quality, biodiversity and waste.

Sustainability assessment

Phase One of HS2 was the first project globally to be certified under the Building Research Establishment’s BREEAM Infrastructure pilot scheme – a scheme to assess the sustainability of infrastructure. The assessment demonstrates that we have the right policies, strategies and technical requirements in place and have integrated sustainability from the outset of the project.

Environmental statements & Information Papers

Phase One Appraisal of Sustainability. Appendix 2 – Greenhouse Gas Emissions

This report, from 2011, provides details of the appraisal method adopted to determine greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with the construction of the London to West Midlands scheme, manufacture of rolling stock and operation of the proposed route enabling a comparison of three scheme scenarios and the reference case (i.e. the future situation without HS2).

HS2 Phase One environmental statement volume 3: route-wide effects

Chapter 5 of the Phase One Environmental Statement (2013) presents the assessment of the GHG emissions of the Proposed Scheme during construction and operation. This issue was considered in detail in the Appraisal of Sustainability of Phase One, where a range for the carbon footprint was presented. This assessment updates and refines the GHG assessment with design, operation and travel demand information.

Access the  series of supplementary and additional provision environmental statements for Phase One. The Phase One GHG assessment was updated in July 2015 (see Chapter 14), September 2015 (see Chapter 2) and October 2015 (see Chapter 14).

Phase One Carbon Information Paper

This paper outlines the carbon footprint and greenhouse gas assessment for HS2 Phase One.

 Environmental Minimum Requirements for Phase 1

The Code of Construction Practice also has information on carbon and climate change adaptation and resilience.

HS2 Phase 2a environmental statement volume 3: route-wide effects

Chapter 4 of the Phase 2a Environmental Statement (2017) reports the GHG assessment for Phase 2a. The GHG assessment quantifies and reports the GHG emissions associated with construction and operation of the Proposed Scheme in the form of the ‘carbon footprint’.

The Phase 2a GHG assessment was updated in February 2019 (see Chapter 9).

Phase 2a Carbon Information Paper

This paper outlines the carbon footprint and greenhouse gas assessment for the Proposed Scheme.

Phase Two Sustainability Statement. Appendix F – HS2 and carbon

This report, from 2013, supplements the Phase Two Sustainability Statement, by describing the approach and findings of the greenhouse gas assessment for the proposed scheme.

Phase 2B Sustainability Statement. Volume 1

Section 9.2 of the Phase 2b Sustainability Statement (2016) reports the GHG assessment for the full HS2 network.