Irish Rail sets target of 51% cut in emissions by 2030 with big reductions in diesel use

Climate plan set to clip carbon dioxide by more than 71,000 tonnes annually while expanding passenger rail and freight services

Irish Rail is to halve its carbon emissions by 2030 and decarbonise completely its diesel locomotive fleet while scaling up electrification and introducing green hydrogen fuel.

The ambitious plan will mean the State transport company reducing its emissions by more than 71,000 tonnes of CO2 annually while expanding rail services in line with Government plans to scale up Irish public transport in coming years and reduce car dependency.

Rail passenger journeys of 80 million per annum will be achieved by the end of the decade, it is envisaged, up from a pre-Covid high of 50.1 million journeys, according to its new climate plan to be published on Monday.

Reliance on diesel

Irish Rail chief executive Jim Meade will be joined by Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan at Pearse Station, Dublin, to announce the company’s corporate climate action plan 2023 to 2030. It outlines how this will be achieved by reduced reliance on diesel through alternative fuels on existing fleets. In 2022, diesel fuel accounted for 82 per cent of Irish Rail’s overall emissions. Moving away from reliance on diesel fuel is critical to its decarbonisation plan, it acknowledges. In tandem with this will be a move to an electric-powered fleet, green energy generation and works to reduce energy consumption. This will be complemented by green corporate purchasing power agreements, increased use of solar panels, and a range of changes to its buildings and fleet works.


Its trialling of hydrogen will be on its 071 class locomotives, which are used mainly for freight and track maintenance.

Irish Rail’s 2018 baseline greenhouse gas emissions generated by its direct and indirect activities amounted to 144,400 tonnes of CO2, about 1 per cent of total national transport emissions.

To meet its public sector target of a 51 per cent reduction in emissions by 2030, it must reduce its combined emissions to 70,800 tonnes, relative to 2018 while growing the passenger and rail freight businesses in line with overall national sectoral ceilings.

Electrification is planned under the Dart+ programme, as well as use of a new battery-electric fleet, which will begin to yield decarbonisation benefits from 2025, it confirms, as new fleets enter service. The potential also exists to progress electrification to the Cork Area Commuter Rail expansion, through battery-electric trains as electrification progresses in the Dublin area, it adds.

Network electrification

However, with its largest single passenger fleet — InterCity railcars — which is “relatively young and powered by diesel”, it is imperative other opportunities to reduce emissions are pursued in advance of more extensive InterCity network electrification as envisaged under the All Island Strategic Rail Review, it says.

A transmission upgrade and potential hybridisation of the InterCity Railcar fleet with an onboard battery, now being trialled, could provide a reduction of 20-30 per cent carbon emissions.

Subject to the business case, an upgrade of the transmission and generator engine on the remaining units of commuter trains in use in the Greater Dublin Area — with “a modern improved generator” — could deliver a 20 per cent cut in fuel consumption and emissions, Irish Rail estimates.

Its reliance on diesel for passenger services will be reduced through increased biofuel content from “B7″ to a 35 per cent biofuel/hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO) blend “and possibly higher depending on price and availability”.

Green hydrogen

A doubling of rail freight activity is assumed up to 2030 following the rollout of its freight strategy, including reopening the Foynes line in Co Limerick. Rail freight will ultimately be operated by either HVO and/or green hydrogen, with a hydrogen trial commencing design at present. All track maintenance and road-rail vehicles are targeted to be fuelled by HVO.

Irish Rail and Latvian company Digas have signed a contract to retrofit a freight diesel locomotive from diesel fuel to hydrogen as a proof of concept. This would be Europe’s first retrofitted hydrogen internal combustion engine freight locomotive “providing a cleaner, cheaper and more practical way to decarbonise diesel locomotive fleet”, according to Irish Rail.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times