This article first appeared in the Railway-News magazine, Issue 2 2023.
Even when accounting for current commitments for decarbonisation, global transportation activity is expected to double by 2050, leading to a 16% rise in emissions.
The railway industry is a significant contributor to these emissions and while it is committed to change, there is still a lot of work to be done if long-term sustainability goals are to be met.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) reports that by diversifying energy sources and providing more efficient mobility, the rail sector can significantly lower fuel consumption, as well as reduce both carbon dioxide and local pollutant emissions. This is backed up by the International Transport Forum (ITF), which believes transport carbon emissions can be reduced by up to 70% through 2050 with support from effective policies.
The good news is that rail is already one of the most energy-efficient ways to transport goods compared to alternatives such as air travel and automotive vehicles. Yet, there still remain some significant barriers to making rail transport as sustainable as it can be.
For this reason, organisations such as the International Union of Railways (UIC) are working to promote more sustainable infrastructure. They are doing so through the use of resources such as concrete, steel and water, etc, that reduce external costs through careful monitoring and noise control, as well as reducing airborne particulates.
However, in order to succeed, the drive for sustainable rail transport must outpace the growth in emissions caused by increasing transport demand over time.
About three-quarters of passenger rail travel currently takes place on electric trains, making rail the only mode of transportation widely electrified today. However, despite being less polluting for the communities they operate in, electrified railways still rely on pollution sources such as coal or gas-fired power plants for electricity generation unless renewable energy or nuclear power options are available.
Resource scarcity is therefore another major factor for the industry to consider. Especially, as currently, humanity uses resources 50% faster than nature can regenerate them, while some resources will not regenerate at all.
Getac Technology discusses solutions for a more sustainable rail transport system and the reduction of harmful emissions.
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