Railfreight Energy and Emissions Calculator
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Railfreight Energy and Emissions Calculator

REEC significantly reduces the cost and time required for analysis of the energy and emissions impact of rail freight initiatives and investments. This enables faster, more, consistent and robust analysis to be done before large investments are made.


The UK net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and the DfT target for "no diesel-only trains" by 2040 are challenging targets for the rail industry. Although both freight and passenger are looking to increase the use of electric traction, the limited electrification of the existing network and the requirement for freight trains to have ‘go-anywhere’ capability, along with the energy requirements to move heavy freight trains, means that this challenge is more acute for freight operating companies.  These companies are actively pursuing ways to decarbonise diesel trains. This includes exploring the use of alternative bio-fuels, and assessing the technological feasibility of hybrid diesel-electric combination or an electric-battery combination.

The challenge to decarbonise is amplified by the fact that only 44% of the Great Britain rail network is electrified and full electrification remains several decades away. Today, less than 10% of rail freight is moved using electric locomotives. Freight operating companies are asking questions such as "how much battery power will be needed on specific lines to bridge the gaps in electrification" and "what are the resulting impact on emissions (CO2, NOx and PM)" of different mitigation measures. Answering these questions requires knowledge of train energy usage (locomotive and wagon combinations), speed restrictions, and timetabling constraints.

A detailed energy and emission profile calculator, performing on-the-fly computation for any path, simply did not exist before REEC. Although the broad methodology is known, no single database contained all the necessary information gathered from on-train telematic equipment and train performance data (e.g. the tractive effort, braking performance), and network infrastructure constraints (e.g. line speed and gradients). Before REEC was created, it required months of data gathering and experienced experts to perform detailed analysis for a single route and scenario.

Freightliner presented the University with a number of specific challenges to use as test cases in the development of the calculator:

  • How much energy will be required to bridge the non-electrified gap on the route from Felixstowe to Crewe via Peterborough?
  • How do the two routes between Felixstowe and Trafford Park, one via London and the other via Peterborough, compare from an energy usage and emissions perspective?
  • What would the energy and emissions savings per freight tonne be if longer trains could be run on certain routes?
  • What would the energy and emissions savings per freight tonne be if we manage to remove some schedule stops or low speed restrictions from certain routes?
  • How do emissions compare between electric and diesel haulage on selected routes?


The Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail (May, 2021) commits: “A methodology to better assess the value of rail freight will help to support decision making and will be reinforced by more open data”.

The challenge addressed by REEC aligns closely to this commitment.

REEC is the first tool that can answer questions regarding the majority of freight train configurations and routes on the UK rail network, within minutes. 


The University of Hull Logistics Institute embarked on a project to create the Railfreight Energy and Emissions Calculator (REEC or /rɛk/) with its partners, Aether, Carrickarory and the University of Derby. Funding was awarded by the Department for Transport’s (DfT), through the “First of a Kind” (2020) competition, run by Innovate UK. Freightliner agreed to provide rail freight expertise and train telematic data to support the project. The project was initiated in July 2021 and completed in March 2022. From April 2022 the tool is now being actively used by Freightliner to analyse a number of their considered decarbonisation initiatives and investments and to consider the pathing of their services to reduce emissions.

The University built and deployed the Railfreight Energy and Emissions Calculator on the existing NR+ platform used for rail planning. This platform was developed by the Logistics Institute in 2019 and contains a unique set of data that include the UK rail network track geometry, gaging, length and weight constraints, line electrification, current and historic rail schedules and actual movements of all trains. NR+ is an Azure cloud-based solution with a web-browser user interface containing several useful applications for rail planners, including maps, a map builder, a route finder and bid validation tools (see figure 1).

The calculations in REEC, uses the established Davis equation (see figure 2) methodology that balances the net accelerative and decelerative forces on a train at any point on its journey to determine the energy required to achieve the desired speed. From this the required notch (or power-setting) for the train can be determined. Emission factors, as established in the previously completed RSSB T1187 project, are then applied to calculate the resultant CO2, NOx and particulate emissions.

REEC fig 1&2 v3

A large amount of data is required to use the Davis equation to get realistic and representative results for almost any freight train consist on any route. The following steps were taken to get all the required data:

  • Gradient, maximum line speed and tunnel data for the entire UK rail network was gathered from a variety of sources and updates manually in the NR+ database
  • On-Train Monitoring Recorder (OTMR) data was used to establish the locomotive performance parameters (tractive effort and resistance) under varying load and speed conditions for the most used locomotive classes (classes 59, 66, 70 and 90). 
  • The factors required to convert time, notch and speed information to energy and emissions were established based on work from previous projects with some further refinement


The REEC system was built with a user-friendly user interface to allow users to select train configurations and routes to be analysed in an easy and flexible way. After selecting a train consist (configuration) and a route, the energy and emission calculations will be performed. The calculator breaks the route down to 10m segments and then applies an algorithm to every 10m segment.  This determines the appropriate state (or “mode”) of the train at that point on the route (accelerate, coast, cruise or decelerate) by mimicking train rules, driver behaviours and train performance constraints.  The calculator then determines the appropriate notch setting to achieve the strain state and the resultant energy usage and emissions.  The results are then displayed. 

The calculations consider a number of factors, including the weight of the train, performance characteristics of the locomotive, traction conditions, track gradient, tunnel conditions, aerodynamic considerations and speed limits. The results are presented as a number of summary tables, graphs and maps that users can use for their analysis.  The “Compare” feature enable users to directly compare the results of two scenarios, e.g. the current baseline compared to a suggested change. The calculator results were validated by the University of Derby against several selected routes, using OTMR data from representative actual runs and several recognised calculation methodologies.

An introductory video to REEC can be found here.

The Impact


A number of potential emission reduction scenarios have been tested as use cases for the tool including: 


     1.  Running longer multimodal trains on the route from Southampton port to Trafford Park


By increasing the train length to 832m emissions will be reduced by 13.6% measure in kg per tonne.km. This provides clear evidence over the benefit of train lengthening from an emissions perspective.


     2.  Determine the lowest emission route from Felixstowe port to Trafford Park


The London route was compared to the Peterborough route and the latter route resulted in 2.5% less emissions.  For the first time we can directly compare relative emissions for the train services travelling on different routes, supporting more informed decision-making on routing and pathing options.


     3.  Using electric rather than diesel traction on the route from Felixstowe to Trafford Park


There are several non-electrified section on this route, totaling a distance of 148 miles (56% of the route). A total of 8,189kWh of energy will be required to get a class 90 train across these sections, with the longest section requiring 3,723kWh (see figure 11). This is beyond the capacity of current battery powered locomotives. Running electric locomotives on this route will reduce emissions by 46% and allow trains to complete the journey 50 minutes faster due to higher performance capabilities. With more than 8,000 freight trains scheduled to use this route in 2022, using electric traction will result in an annual CO2 emissions saving of more than 15 kilotonnes or 4% of the total rail emissions for UK rail freight.


This provides clear evidence of energy requirements to bridge gaps on non-electrified infrastructure. This will provide invaluable information supporting further research and development into new technologies to help to bridge gaps on the network. It can also be used by the infrastructure manager or by Government to inform the sequencing of future electrification programmes, in order to help narrow those gaps and bring them within the bounds of new technologies to bridge. It can also be used by the infrastructure manager or by Government to inform the sequencing of future electrification programmes, in order to help narrow those gaps and bring them within the bounds of new technologies to bridge.


     4.  Remove a speed restriction and a scheduled stop from the Tunstead quarry to West Thurrock depot route


Remove a 25mph speed restriction and Chinley and a scheduled stop at Toton. This results in a 95kg CO2 reduction or 2%. This provides clear information of the impact of pathing on emissions and how the industry can deliver better outcomes with existing technologies on the current infrastructure.

Positive Feedback

"Very Impressive”

James Hilon and Andrew Howrey, Network Rail


“I am particularly interested in the rail v road comparison tool to support future planning for new freight facilities”

Jonathan Lovatt, Network Rail, Senior Strategic Planner


“Very interesting - looking forward to launch of tool”

Matt Heywood, Network Rail, Lead Strategic Planner


“It is really impressive”

Robert Staunton, RSSB


“Interesting indeed and a great piece of work”

Tim Shakerley, Freightliner, MD for UK Rail Services


“It is a great product and, as you saw, a lot of interest which of course now needs to translate into commitment”

Maggie Simpson OBE, Rail Freight Group, Director General


“This product shows the impact that timetabling of trains has on emissions, enabling more informed and better decision-making.”

Peter Graham, Freightliner


For more information, please contact:

Barrie Louw (F.G.Louw@hull.ac.uk), Systems and Operations Manager, Logistics Institute at The University of Hull