virgin station 1
Our client, Virgin Trains, contacted us regarding feasibility studies for an ambitious and industry-leading project with the goal to create carbon neutral railway stations in support of many ongoing rail and global initiatives to achieve net-zero carbon emissions. Stoke-On-Trent and Oxenholme Lake District were identified as the first two stations to target, with the hope they would provide good examples for future stations to follow.


In January 2019, an initial report to the Minister for Rail on Traction, Property and Infrastructure opportunities for decarbonising the railway was published and states that much of rail’s property portfolio has a significant opportunity for carbon reduction. Trial projects are now being considered and franchise agreements now require an average 2.5% / year reduction in non-traction energy. Combining the above with Virgin Train’s Corporate Environment Policy for creating a greener railway, reducing CO2 at each station by at least 4% and commitment for new projects to achieve net zero by 2030 makes a very strong case to purse the feasibility of carbon neutral stations now.

Railway stations are diverse and often outdated buildings with a broad range of building functions, which span multiple platforms. Understanding how the large amount of historical energy data (grid electricity and gas) related to the consumption behaviour and different systems within the station was very complex.

Passengers utilise railway stations usually for a brief period but consume high amounts of energy e.g. utilising toilets, waiting rooms, cafés and shops etc. Consequently, the energy consumed across the stations was very high and posed a big challenge to achieve carbon neutrality. Furthermore, with the age (and grade II listing of Stoke-On-Trent) of the stations, came other complications regarding building loading and planning permission for the installation of low carbon technologies.


Following detailed site visits and extended dialogues with operating staff at the stations meant the team were able to understand how the sites were used, correlate this with the asset register (OPAS list) and the large amount of historical energy consumption data provided to identify innovative solutions to reduce the energy consumption at the stations. With this reduced loading, leading-edge low carbon technologies were identified across the sites to attempt and meet this revised energy consumption. Oxenholme has the potential to provide all of its power ‘carbon free’ along with a vastly reduced gas consumption. While Stoke-On-Trent, due to the development of a potential geothermal district heat network within Stoke-On-Trent, has the potential to run entirely off the grid and become the UK’s first carbon neutral station. All of these measures are subject to various pieces of planning permission, civil works and asset management agreements. We have received excellent feedback from Virgin trains regarding this work, with scope for further study.