Transport minister Jo Johnson will today call for diesel-only trains to be taken off Britain's railways by 2040, as the government seeks to tap the use of alternatives such as hydrogen.
As battery technologies improve, the government expects to see the diesel engines in bi-modes replaced with batteries powering the train between the electrified sections of the network.
Johnson wants hydrogen train trials on the UK railway "as soon as possible", as it offers "an affordable - and potentially much cleaner - alternative to diesel".
In his first major speech as rail minister, Johnson will announce today at the British Museum:
I would like to see us take all diesel-only trains off the track by 2040. If that seems like an ambitious goal, it should be and I make no apology for that. After all we’re committed to ending the sales of petrol and diesel cars by 2040. If we can achieve that, then why can’t the railway aspire to a similar objective?
The government is concerned that increased travel has resulted in greater carbon emissions, and Johnson will say it is up to all areas of the transport industry to help bring about change.
He is expected to say: "This government is now injecting record levels of investment in the railway to help it grow further. But alongside increased funding, the industry also needs to modernise. Compared with other transport sectors, progress has been palpably slow."
So as well as calling for change, Johnson will set the industry a six month time limit to pitch ideas for delivering a low carbon railway.
The government plans to provide support for developing the skills and technology needed, but Johnson will add: "Today, I am calling on the railway to provide a vision for how it will decarbonise. And I expect the industry to report back by the autumn."
The Railway Industry Association said it welcomed the announcement as a key step in helping the rail industry to be "one of the most environmentally friendly modes of travel".
"Currently 29 per cent of the fleet on the UK's rail network is diesel," said David Clarke, the RIA's technical director. "To replace these we will need to install overhead power lines for electrification or use on-board energy storage from technology such as batteries or hydrogen fuel cells - or a combination of both. This is therefore a big challenge for the industry but one which I think it can and will look forward to meeting."