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Reporting on embodied carbon in the rail sector

Published on September 12, 2022

Earlier this year, Network Rail updated its project carbon reporting requirements, which may affect contractors over the coming years. Jamie Blunden, Senior Environmental Consultant in RSK’s Carbon and Sustainability team, examines the approach and roll-out of this new reporting tool and the impacts it will have on the rail industry.

In a guidance note update released in February 2022, Network Rail outlined the need for whole life carbon (WLC) assessments for any projects over £1 million via its own rail carbon reporting tool. The guidance note emphasises tracking greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions through all stages of project delivery, encompassing planning, design, construction and operation of national rail infrastructure. The note coincides with the introduction of a new product delivery phase system in which the existing Governance for Railway Investment Projects (GRIP) system will be replaced by a new Project Acceleration in a Controlled Environment (PACE) model.

What is the significance of this new carbon tool requirement?

The introduction of this new rail carbon reporting standard recognises the need to meet net-zero targets across the rail sector and extends carbon reporting to scope 3 emissions, that is, emissions produced by contractors within Network Rail’s value chain, rather than those incurred directly by the company or its assets. This helps Network Rail to address carbon impacts earlier in a project, enabling supply chains to identify and manage WLC emissions and related impacts throughout large-scale rail projects. Visibility of carbon hot spots across the value chain is the first step in understanding carbon footprints.

The rail carbon tool aligns with PAS 2080, a widely-adopted standard for managing carbon in infrastructure. By incorporating PAS 2080, the rail carbon reporting tool is easier to follow and act upon, as it uses a standardised framework to report against. The Network Rail tool, however, offers advice in addition to that given by PAS 2080 and reduces scope for misinterpretation. The baseline requirements, timeframes, stakeholder engagement and input specifications are clearly defined and offer a sense of what is needed, and why, at any given point of a project life cycle.

How will contractors benefit from this new carbon requirement?

By using this comprehensive and more granular carbon reporting tool and framework, contractors can use the information collected to understand their own embodied carbon footprint better and to act upon it. It may also enable contractors to gain value from any cost savings associated with a reduced footprint.

To meet these new requirements, data will be required on material, suppliers and on-site emissions, all of which will help the reporting company develop its own carbon disclosure processes. Collating this data will be useful for other projects and clients that require carbon data and will also support the reporting company in developing its own reduction targets.

Such visibility offers further benefits: considering carbon impacts at a high level early in the project cycle enables more profound changes to be made. Incorporating carbon into the design phase of projects affords the opportunity to adjust to low carbon alternatives, leading to carbon savings within rail infrastructure.

Network Rail’s approach to carbon requirements

Network Rail has chosen to stagger the roll-out of the requirement, based on a tiered project value system. Projects of £50 million or more needed to forecast carbon emissions from 1 July this year, while those worth less than £50 million need to do so from 1 January 2023. In addition, contractors on larger, more complex projects might need to consider the PAS 2080 requirements in full, while lower value projects have to meet a lower commitment threshold. The requirements for smaller-scale contractors will therefore be less demanding than those for larger-scale contractors, certainly until 2024 at least.

As the guidance introduced by Network Rail is expected to be progressively more demanding as the staggered roll-out nears 2025, integrating reporting and savings processes earlier will make contractors better prepared.

What next?

Presently, the ultimate responsibility lies with the lead designer, with construction contractors likely to need to update on practical completion. As the roll-out takes place, most Network Rail contractors will eventually be required to contribute to this WLC assessment and rail carbon reporting: a reporting commitment that is only expected to ramp up over time.

From both ends of the client and contractor spectrum, a certain degree of preparation is needed. This heightened carbon awareness has implications even for the way smaller contractors operate: a positive move from a carbon-reduction perspective. Equally, the tool will need to be updated regularly to keep up with emerging emission factors for more accurate WLC assessments. The ease of use of the tool will be critical to keep in line with the pace of climate change requirements and ensure user uptake.

Understanding these considerations and whole-life-cycle carbon across value chains is pivotal to creating resilient, future-proof infrastructure. From this understanding, it is then possible to enact measures to reduce the embodied carbon of projects. In line with the UK’s transport decarbonisation plan published last year, this move adopted by Network Rail ultimately minimises the environmental impacts of large-scale infrastructure projects.

Jamie Blunden, Senior Environmental Consultant in the RSK Carbon and Sustainability team, supports clients to determine and offset their carbon footprints and provides specialist assessment and reporting services.

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Jamie Blunden

RSK group, Senior Environmental Consultant

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Jamie Blunden, Senior Carbon Consultant, works in RSK’s carbon and sustainability team, specialising in building and infrastructure life cycle carbon assessments and company carbon footprint assessments. He has created carbon models for clients within the aviation, rail and development industries and has undertaken complex product carbon footprinting assessments. Jamie is a Practitioner with the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA) and is a trained internal environmental auditor.

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