Office of Rail and Road
Printable version

On track for a green future: ORR’s environmental role

Blog posted by: Daniel Roberts, Senior Policy Manager, 22 April 2024.

Today is Earth Day, an annual event to demonstrate support for environmental protection.

Earth Day 2024


The impact and response to climate change continues to evolve and requires sustained effort to meet both national and international environmental objectives to reach net zero. 

The rail and road networks play a vital role in the UK’s transport system. As the independent economic and safety regulator for Britain's railways, we have statutory duties to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development, have regard to the impact of rail services on the environment and how National Highways achieves its environmental objectives. 

This is the first in a series of blogs, highlighting some of the environmental and sustainability work that we do across the UK’s transport system.

Gauging green: the transport sector today 

The sectors we regulate are huge, and so is their environmental impact. Transport is the largest contributor to UK domestic greenhouse gas emissions. Building, operating and maintaining the strategic road network in England emitted half a million tonnes of CO₂ equivalent between April 2022 and March 2023, while emissions from trains alone were 2.2 million tonnes of CO₂ equivalent. We publish annual statistics on rail emissions, which provides more detail. 

Improving the sustainability of the UK’s transport sectors is a collaborative effort. Government sets the policy direction, and Parliament creates the legal framework. We use our role to implement these, focusing on where we can add the most value and using our powers and influence to encourage and build on the actions already being taken across industry. As part of this, for Network Rail and High Speed One Ltd (HS1), ORR sets specific environmental performance measures as part of the periodic review process

Control Period 7, the five-year funding period for Network Rail running from 2024 to 2029, sets stronger environmental targets across the next five years, including requirements to report progress on reducing Scope 1, 2 and 3 carbon emissions – meaning those a company directly emits, those associated with its energy usage, and all other emissions. There are more requirements to improve biodiversity, air quality and work toward a more circular economy. We also challenged Network Rail to progress its weather resilience and climate change adaptation plans. 

Our periodic review of HS1 Ltd 2024 (PR24) will also set out our expectations in relation to environment and sustainability. During the current Road Investment Strategy (RIS2) we have successfully challenged National Highways in improving its environmental performance. It it will be our role to advise government on future environmental performance requirements and targets as we move toward RIS3. 

Our environmental work doesn’t stop at Network Rail, National Highways, or HS1. Every company or individual that has a license to operate a rail service needs to have an environmental policy and relevant management arrangements. We recently undertook a review into the quality of these and will be publishing our findings soon.

Considering our own impact 

Like the rail and road industries that we regulate, we know that we also have a responsibility to minimise the impact we have on the environment. We recently launched our first ORR Corporate Environment Strategy, outlining our own commitments to contribute to creating a sustainable future for all. 

We have made good progress in recent years reducing our environmental impact, but we know there is more that we can do both as an organisation and individuals to reduce the ORR’s impact on the environment and play our part in delivering the Greening Government Commitments.

Forward track

The whole transport sector needs to continue to adapt to the effects of climate change, and ORR’s approach will reflect the needs of the industry. Our sustainable development policy statement sets out how we incorporate sustainable development principles into our regulatory functions.

Keep an eye out for further blogs in this series looking at other aspects of our work through an environmental lens.  


ORR Corporate Environmental Strategy (pdf 9.92 MB)


Channel website:

Original article link:

Share this article

Latest News from
Office of Rail and Road

Facing the Future...find out more