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Case study

FJD Consulting’s carbon tool is helping to put rail projects on track for net zero

Date
05 April 2022

The design consultancy’s carbon assessment tool has so far helped to reduce capital carbon on its projects by an average of 56%.

FJD Consulting’s carbon tool is helping to put rail projects on track for net zero
The team at FJD Consulting working on the carbon assessment tool.

FJD Consulting, a civil engineering design consultancy that operates largely in the rail sector, has developed a carbon assessment tool to compare the capital carbon values of its designs. The tool has so far helped to reduce capital carbon on its projects by an average of 56%.

The creation of the tool was initially instigated by a change of legislation in early 2020. From developing the tool, it was found that there were several simple ways to reduce carbon on a project.

As a result of the research, several staff have now been trained to complete carbon assessments to ensure that all designs across the business have the capability to reduce carbon on projects.

Climate targets

The UK construction industry is at a turning point when it comes to sustainability, with new legislation and UN targets making compliance mandatory for businesses.

As a railway infrastructure designer, FJD can assess a project’s carbon usage at the pre-construction stage to lessen its impact prior to practical works being carried out.

Activities that have a significant effect on the sustainability of projects include the distance materials are transported to site, the embodied carbon of a product and the amount of material that ends up in landfill during construction.

The impetus for FJD was legislation implemented in the railway industry that has a direct impact on how structures are designed. The Office of Rail and Road, for example, has placed regulated targets on Network Rail to reduce CO2 from its operations by 25% over the course of Control Period 6 (CP6) – rail projects, works and improvements that are delivered between 2019 and 2024.

In addition, the Climate Change Act 2008 set out the Government’s long-term goal to reduce CO2 emissions by 34% by 2020 and 100%, or net zero, by 2050.

Capital carbon covers the total carbon emitted from the project lifecycle at product, construction, refurbishment and end-of-life stages (but it does not cover operational carbon).

FJD projects focus on the areas of a project where capital carbon is produced. The company therefore committed to developing a tool to compare the mass of carbon dioxide equivalent (kgCO2e) between design options and the stages in the project lifecycle.

Overcoming challenges

There were many challenges with setting up the tool. To undertake a fair analysis, the parameters and data inputted were assumed to be an average point in the UK. However, the tool would also need to be capable of more in-depth analysis when applied to a project-specific site.

Another challenge was gathering information from product manufacturers and construction companies to ensure that the data inputted into the tool was as accurate as possible.

The business as usual (BAU) processes in the design of ancillary civils on the railway were compared with innovative solutions. One example was a typical foundation for cabins and containers, which in a BAU design would be concrete slabs. FJD’s tool showed that by using recycled plastic sleepers in the foundation instead of concrete, the capital carbon could be reduced by up to 71% (see Table 1).

By using recycled plastic sleepers in the foundation instead of concrete, the capital carbon could be reduced by up to 71%
By using recycled plastic sleepers in the foundation instead of concrete, the capital carbon could be reduced by up to 71%

In other assessments, the tool delivered surprising results in instances where previously it had been assumed that innovative designs would be more sustainable. In the above carbon assessment, for example, it was found that low-carbon concrete strips had a similar mass of carbon dioxide equivalent as insitu concrete strips.

Another example was using GRP (glass reinforced plastic) instead of steel for signposts, with the steel design being found to be more environmentally friendly than GRP.

The tool has shown that it is always important to carbon-assess designs as it provides evidence that a design is sustainable. It is also an important check for allegedly more sustainable designs, as business as usual could already be a sustainable design. Changing many small processes in designs can have a significant positive sustainability impact.

Be an ICE Carbon Champion

ICE’s Carbon Champions initiative aims to celebrate individuals and their teams who are committed to achieving net zero. Applicants are invited to submit their examples of carbon reduction in practice, giving details of their projects’ carbon savings.

Apply to be an ICE Carbon Champion


Name of Project: Ancillary Design of Railway Trackside Structures

ICE Carbon Champions involved in this project:
  • Simon Moon, FJD Consulting (& Design) Ltd
  • Dom McIlgrew, FJD Consulting (& Design) Ltd
  • Chris Jefferson, FJD Consulting (& Design) Ltd
  • Ruth Gregory, FJD Consulting (& Design) Ltd
  • Dominic McIlgrew, design engineer at FJD Consulting