24.11.2022 /

Sustainability rooted in design

How we plan to protect the environment and reduce our carbon footprint in the design stages of East West Rail.

Back to Latest stories

Image of Beth West

This year's Conference of the Parties (COP) has recently concluded with the event hosting many of the world’s most critical decision makers. COP has become a significant moment for us all as countries come together to discuss the pressing issues of climate change, and we were pleased to see sustainable transport solutions being discussed.

COP serves as a timely reminder for us all to continue challenging our own behaviours to think, and act, more sustainably. But deciding to be more sustainable is not always easy or cost effective in the short term. How each of us travel, for example, is fundamental for getting to work, school or social events and impacts our everyday lives. For most of us, we just want to get to where we need to be as quickly and as cheaply as possible. That’s why it’s crucial for sustainable journeys to be made easier and affordable in our communities – so that people choose them more.


Sustainable journeys must be made easy

Whilst we’re in the early planning stages, we have a real opportunity to make sure there are sustainable and seamless travel choices for communities in our region which are joined up with other public transport services. This includes working with local authorities on what’s called First Mile Last Mile, which is making sure people have ways to get to and from the station. You can read more about our approach to First Mile Last Mile here.

In terms of impact, the hierarchy of sustainable travel looks like this:

Put simply, taking the train already helps tackle climate change – it cuts carbon emissions by two thirds compared to travelling by car – and it can do more in future.” – Rail Delivery Group

Transport is the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions here in the UK, and 55% of that comes from cars and taxis. Rail travel, however, accounts for just 1.4% of emissions. By increasing the UK’s rail network capacity and delivering East West Rail, we have a unique opportunity to reduce overall emissions and support growth in critical areas of the economy.

  • 1.4% of all UK transport emissions comes from rail travel


Rooting sustainability in our designs

There’s still more planning to do before East West Rail is delivered and the full environmental benefits are realised. That’s why we’re paying particular attention to how we can protect the environment and reduce our carbon footprint before our trains even touch the tracks.

Careful planning will help minimise waste and optimise a circular economy approach, enhancing and protecting our ecology and reducing our carbon footprint. The graph below shows the carbon lifecycle in infrastructure projects. Typically, we’d expect 50% of capital carbon to come from materials which is driven by the design. Here at EWR Co we’re in the first three phases of the project, and as shown, this is when we have the biggest opportunity to reduce our whole life carbon by challenging design norms. This goes hand in hand with reducing the cost of the project and being more efficient.  For example, removing a single span bridge for a highway crossing can save over 1,100 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, which is the equates to over 45,000 average petrol car journeys between Oxford and Cambridge.



EWR graphics Work Stages of Infrastructure Delivery 3

We’re in the process of finalising our Environmental Design Approaches which set out the expectations of every design decision.  Within those standards, we put the responsibility on ourselves and our supply chain to demonstrate how the design will optimise recycled material and minimise waste, as well as selecting low carbon solutions for concrete, steel, earthworks and more. These standards are vital and will be assured and verified to the same level of detail as technical engineering designs.


Sustainable construction supports costs savings

Construction waste makes up 60% of overall waste in the UK and relies on heavy goods vehicles, processing plants and creating new material from virgin sources. We're actively exploring ways we can minimise waste during the early design period and continually throughout the stages of the project. To do so we must plan and monitor, as far as possible, to use materials  efficiently and minimise the amount used for construction. This will help safeguard our natural capital, save on HGV transport, and make the project cheaper for the taxpayer.

Sustainable design is an opportunity to be more efficient – not a burden." Vanessa Hilton, Head of Environment

Our Environmental Design Approaches give a credible and verifiable method to avoid over specification, reduce cuttings, concrete structures and reduce our land take. By reducing land take, for example, it means less spend is required for habitat removal, reinstatement and biodiversity net gain.


Looking down the line

As we see the outcomes of COP27, and perhaps reflect on some of the commitments which have been made previously, we understand the importance of giving credible and transparent deliverables. To achieve this, my colleagues and I must continue working together with our supply chain and learn from similar projects. We’ll soon be inviting our supply chain to a series of workshops which showcase their innovative sustainable solutions. We understand that our role is to set the challenge and provide an opportunity for collaboration on new practices, products and approaches. So, we’re looking forward to welcoming those who have new ideas and giving them a platform to share innovations which benefit all UK infrastructure projects.

Whilst we make progress through the stages of East West Rail, we pledge to continue putting environmental protection at the heart of decision making and deliver ambitious but achievable targets which support growth and promote sustainable journeys from design through to running the railway.