31 January 2019
Boosting Railway Investments Could Reduce Emissions, Improve Air Quality and Access to Transport
Photo by IISD/ENB | Angeles Estrada Vigil
story highlights

Railways account for 8% of global passenger transport and 7% of goods transport, but represent only 2% of energy demand from the transport sector.

Stronger policies and investments in railway infrastructure could allow for transport emissions to peak before 2040 and decline to 2015 levels by 2050.

Additional investments in rail systems would be offset by lower investments in road infrastructure and energy savings, while producing multiple benefits for the climate and the environment, and access to transport.

30 January 2019: A report by the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the International Union of Railways (UIC) shows that higher investments in railways could significantly reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from transport and its contribution to air pollution, while providing access to efficient and sustainable transport for all. Expanding rail transport in growing urban centers would also increase reliability, reduce congestion and noise pollution, and improve local air quality.

Railways currently carry 8% of the world’s passengers and 7% of global goods, but represent only 2% of global energy demand for transport. The efficiency advantage of railways provides an opportunity to curb the increase of transport emissions, while meeting growing global transport demand. The report titled, ‘The Future of Rail: Opportunities for Energy and the Environment,’ explores the potential of strengthening policies and investments for rail transport at the global level, including a chapter focusing on India.

The publication includes two scenarios for the future development of railways: a Base Scenario that analyzes how railway systems and their energy demand would evolve under current and announced policies, regulations and projects; and a High Rail Scenario that assumes measures that would minimize the cost of rail transport, maximize revenues from rail systems and ensure that all forms of transport are obliged to pay for adverse environmental and health impacts.

Achieving the High Rail Scenario would require average annual investments that are 90% higher than in the Base Scenario.

Under the High Rail Scenario, total energy demand for rail transport would increase by 42% by 2050, equal to 4% of global transport energy demand. This represents a reduction in total energy demand of 565 megatons of oil equivalent (Mtoe), compared to the Base Scenario. Most of this reduction would be in the form of oil, representing approximately ten million barrels saved per day. At the same time, most rail systems would be electrified, allowing for CO2 emissions from transport to peak before 2040, followed by a decline to 2015 levels by 2050. Achieving the High Rail Scenario would require average annual investments that are 90% higher than in the Base Scenario; however a large part of these investments would be offset by lower investments in road and transport infrastructure and lower energy costs.

The special focus section analyzes the detailed impacts of a High Rail Scenario in India, the country with the fourth largest rail system in the world and the world’s highest volume of passenger travel. The analysis shows that railways will continue playing a vital role for India’s development. Ensuring this outcome however requires addressing several challenges identified in the report, including: mobilizing investment; overcoming infrastructure bottlenecks; maintaining the affordability of rail, while enhancing its competitiveness; and integrating rail into the overall transport strategy.

The report is part of a series of IEA publications focusing on “energy blind-spots,” issues in the energy debate that require more attention from policy makers, including the future role of bioenergy, cooling and petrochemicals in the global energy debate. [Publication: The Future of Rail: Opportunities for Energy and the Environment] [Report Summary] [IEA Press Release]

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