Skip to main content


Social Innovation

The Journey to COP26: Conversations on Clean Transport Episode 3: ScotRail Electric Train between Glasgow and Edinburgh

Hitachi has been working with ScotRail to deliver all-new zero-emission trains. Replacing diesel trains, they are helping Scotland and the world reach their net-zero climate objectives.

In this episode Alex Hynes, Managing Director of ScotRail, and Jim Brewin, UK Country Lead, Hitachi Rail, join the Hitachi Glasgow to Edinburgh ScotRail service. Onboard they discuss their ongoing partnership, the challenges with electrification, the role battery trains could play, and more...

Alex: Well, good morning, Jim. Welcome onboard the 9.15 Glasgow Queen Street to Edinburgh. You'll be familiar with these trains because they’re our fantastic brand new electric trains, which you've built and we introduced and now operate. And of course, they were the most reliable new train in Britain.

Jim:  Yeah, thanks Alex. It's fantastic to be back on these units, after many years of operating in service and partnership with yourselves. What these trains deliver, day in, day out for passengers is really significant and what we're doing in terms of this being an electric fleet, very important. We've replaced diesel trains and we're delighted to see tens of thousands of tons of CO2 being reduced because of these trains operating on a daily basis.

So Alex, one of the things I'm really interested in, in learning more about in terms of what's happening in Scotland, is the strategy for electrification and how that might work moving forward into the future.

Alex: As you know, here in Scotland, we've electrified a lot of the central belt actually in recent years, which is why 75% of passenger journeys are already made in electric trains.

We've got to decarbonize. We're never going to electrify it all are we? Which is why battery and hydrogen have got a role to play. And that's why we're working, hand in glove, with ScotRail, Network Rail, Transport Scotland, and people such as yourselves to work out what's the best mix between electrification, discontinuous electrification, battery and hydrogen. And our working assumption is that battery-electric hybrid trains will have a role to play in managing that transition to a net-zero railway.

Jim: So, within that Alex, are there difficult areas of the network in terms of tunnels, etc., and the benefit of that sort of blend of technologies that would add value to the network in the longer term?

Alex: Actually putting the overhead line equipment up, that's the easy bit, the difficult bit is the civil engineering: dropping the track, raising the bridges, etc. And so battery-electric trains give us an opportunity to decarbonize before the day of full electrification. By maybe doing more difficult bits or maybe more expensive bits a bit later, for example. We've got to electrify the Forth Bridge. That will be a complex project. And we may be able to decarbonize before we electrify. That's why battery-electric hybrid trains could have a role in our decarbonisation plans.

Jim: So another question from me Alex, in terms of, once you've electrified the railway, where does that power come from in Scotland and what's the strategy? Because having an electric fleet of trains is great, but it still needs powering.

Alex: ScotRail buys its electricity from Network Rail and Network Rail buys its electricity from the power suppliers and it is carbon zero electricity. It's from carbon zero sources. There is nuclear there in the mix and we are exploring whether we can buy our electricity from suppliers, from fully renewable sources, but electric trains are carbon zero in Britain. And that's why it's such an important part of going net-zero by 2050 in UK, 2045 in Scotland. Electrification is already a good thing. We are going to need to do more of it.

Jim: Yes, that's really positive. Of course, these trains can regenerate from braking, which often the general public misses.  These electric trains can put energy back into the grid if we use them correctly. So, how open is the Scottish network to maximizing that?

Alex: That's one reason why we are delivering all our electric trains across the whole of ScotRail, with our nice green leaf on the outside, saying ‘your ticket to zero carbon travel’, because we've got to explain to people that by taking the train, they're not just going from A to B. And if we've got clever technology, like regenerative braking, we need to have a little poster inside the train saying, “did you know that when this train brakes, it puts energy back into the networks?”

So, we've got to do a better job of explaining to people, all the brilliant work that we're up to, because we are up to brilliant things. I say to railway people every day and night, we do amazing things, who knows about it?

Jim: Very True. What are some of the challenges you are facing right now?

Alex: My biggest challenge right now is that at the end of this month, the whole world's going to arrive in Glasgow and hopefully they're going to travel around Scotland using the train. So, our objective is to deliver a boringly, reliable and safe train service for visitors across the globe, to showcase the fantastic work that ScotRail and Hitachi and Network Rail does here, and hopefully win some new customers too.

Jim: Yes. I came up by train myself, up to Scotland this week, for a number of meetings, including today. But that journey was fantastic. I got an awful lot of work done on the way. And you start to really think about the need for domestic flying if we can improve the rail network. And I think projects like HS-2, which Hitachi is a massive supporter of, that going all the way to Scotland, in terms of improving journey times, will clearly help that sort of message, which is really important for us in terms of the discussions that happen at COP26 and beyond.