COP21: Rail Applauded as Most Sustainable Mobility Solution

Image courtesy of COP21

COP21, the Paris climate conference, is currently taking place in the French capital, bringing 150 heads of state together to discuss action that can be taken to combat climate change while we still have the opportunity.

The conference will broker an unprecedented agreement between nearly 200 countries to combat climate change, in what President Obama yesterday called an act of defiance against the people who would seek to deny us hope for our future.

Transport and Climate Change

The countries with the largest CO2 emissions are China and the United States. The European Union, categorised as a single body, is third. As such, Europe must take responsibility for its share of the cause of climate change. But it is a demonstration of European values that it has led the charge to fight the issue, and will continue to do so.

At the moment, transport is responsible for 22.7% of global CO2 emissions, with levels increasing by roughly 50% every year. With aviation, maritime and the automotive industries making up the vast majority of this, trains have emerged as the greenest of all forms of transport. Despite representing 9% of global mobility , rail generates only 0.7% of CO2 emissions, as against 22% for other forms of transport.

Trains and COP21

At the summit, the railway industry, and the European railway industry in particular, has taken centre stage. This began with the Train To Paris campaign, whereby trains from as far afield as China, Russia and Mongolia, as well as all over Europe, arrived simultaneously in Paris ahead of the Summit in order to raise awareness of how this sustainable, low-carbon form of transport can contribute to the fight against climate change.

At the conference, trains have been lauded as the most sustainable form of transport. The European Rail Industry, which also represents 46% of the global market in rail supplies, is exemplary in eco-sustainability, with cutting-edge innovations and solutions and ever-greener practices being adopted as standard. From 1990 to 2010, energy consumption was reduced by 20%. In certain vehicle types, the cut was as much as 50%. And it is still falling.

Energy Saving Innovations

Energy saving innovations are becoming the norm across the European rail network, with great success. Energy storage technologies can save up to 30% for DMUs (Diesel Multiple Units) and in light rail vehicles. Reversible substations mean that up to 100% of regenerated braking energy can be fed back into the network, saving up to 30% in light rail vehicles. The increasing use of light-weight materials saves up to 25% of energy consumption for rolling stock .

Rail transport increasingly relies on electric energy, which enables further CO2 reductions as the energy sector moves to renewable, low-carbon modes of energy generation.

Capitalising on Eco-Sustainability for the Rail Industry

The rail industry is in a unique position where it can promote its own interests and at the same time save the planet. Encouraging a modal shift away from other forms of transport, making rail travel increasingly attractive to potential users in order to increase demand will in turn mean more investment into ever-greener innovations.

There must also be further improvement in the environmental performance of the rail industry, including rolling stock, infrastructure and signalling systems. It must ensure that it is constantly working towards greater energy efficiency and lower emissions when rail equipment is directly emitting CO2. This progress must take place across all rail sectors high-speed, intercity, light rail and metro, as well as freight.

The Role of UNIFE in Europe

The Association of the European Rail Industry, UNIFE, represents more than 80 small, medium and large rail supply companies in Europe and the world. It promotes sustainability projects and innovations, such as:

  • OSIRIS (Optimal Strategies to Innovate and Reduce energy consumption In urban rail Systems), focused on testing and implementing environmentally friendly technological and operational solutions. This project alone will result in a 10% reduction of energy in urban rail networks in Europe over the next five years.
  • MERLIN (Management of Energy for smarter RaiLway systems in Europe: an INtegrated optimisation approach) demonstrates that integrated management systems are capable of achieving sustainable energy usage in electric mainline systems. This project will result in a 10% reduction of energy.
  • REFRESCO (towards a REgulatory FRamework for the usE of Structural new materials in railway passenger and freight CarbOdyshells) establishes the use of new materials (less weighty and less energy-consuming) through improving the certification processes for rolling stock.
This cohesive organisation is well placed to further its goals of a stronger, farther reaching and ever greener European rail network, ensuring that this issue always features the decision making process for stakeholders in the industry.

Moving Towards the Future

In the interests of environmental sustainability, railways are arguably the most important form of transport on the planet. They lead the way in sustainable solutions, already practicing what other industries can barely preach by rolling out innovations and putting them into practice constantly, by making rail travel more affordable and more attractive to passengers and by improving regulations and industry standards.

Railways may yet return to a level of cultural and practical significance not seen for a century, but where that was called the Golden Age, this one will be Green.

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