According to a report of International Energy Agency, prepared in cooperation with the International Union of Railways (UIC), although railway transport is often neglected in public debate, it is among the most energy efficient modes of transport for freight and passengers.
The transport sector is responsible for almost one-third of final energy demand, nearly two-thirds of oil demand and nearly one-quarter of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from fuel combustion. Therefore, changes in transport are fundamental to achieving energy transitions globally. While the rail sector carries 8% of the world’s passengers and 7% of global freight transport, it represents only 2% of total transport energy demand, highlighting its efficiency.
“The rail sector can provide substantial benefits for the energy sector as well as for the environment. By diversifying energy sources and providing more efficient mobility, rail can lower transport energy use and reduce carbon dioxide and local pollutant emissions,” IEA Executive Director, Fatih Birol, said, during releasing organisation’s report, “The Future of Rail”.
The report includes a Base Scenario that projects the evolution of the railways sector to 2050 on the basis of announced policies, regulations and projects. It also includes a High Rail Scenario to demonstrate the energy and environmental benefits of a more significant shift of passengers and goods to rail transport. While the High Rail Scenario requires about 60% more investment than in the Base Scenario, global CO2 emissions from transport peak in the late 2030s, air pollution is reduced, and oil demand is lowered.
The future of the rail sector will be determined by how it responds to both rising transport demand and rising pressure from competing transport modes.
Currently, three-quarters of passenger rail transport activity takes place on electric trains, which is an increase from 60% in 2000 – the rail sector is the only mode of transport that is widely electrified today. According to the report, the regions with the highest share of electric train activity are Europe, Japan and Russia, while North and South America still rely heavily on diesel. Passenger rail is significantly more electrified than freight in almost all regions, and regions with higher reliance on urban rail and high-speed rail are those with the largest share of passenger-kilometres served by electricity.
Photo: Deutsche Bahn/Uwe Miethe