IEA: Greater use of rail would save energy, lower emissions

By Renzo Pipoli
Greater railway use would lead to energy savings, lower emissions and greater safety. Photo courtesy of Larisa-K/Pixabay
Greater railway use would lead to energy savings, lower emissions and greater safety. Photo courtesy of Larisa-K/Pixabay

Jan. 30 (UPI) -- While rising incomes in developing economies create stronger transportation demand -- where the need for flexibility tends to favor car and air travel -- increased railway use would save energy, help the environment and also be safer, experts say.

The International Energy Agency said Wednesday that any significant shift of passengers and goods to rail transport would reduce air pollution and oil demand.


"While the rail sector carries 8 percent of the world's passengers and 7 percent of global freight transport, it represents only 2% of total transport energy demand, highlighting its efficiency," the IEA said in a press release.

In addition, rail is the only mode of transport that is widely electrified today, the report added. The trend toward electrification, excluding North America, which will continue to rely mostly on diesel, is on the rise.


"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," the IEA report said.

Currently three-quarters of worldwide passenger transport takes place on electric trains, up from 60 percent in 2000, the IEA said. The trend is toward rail transport becoming "almost entirely electrified in all major countries and regions."

"The exception is North America, where it is projected that the dominance of freight diesel will continue," it said.

The organization conducted a study based on two scenarios for the next 30 years, one in which the railways sector would expand at the expected rate, based on current policies and announced projects, and another scenario in which policies and investment lead to higher rail use.

"While the high rail scenario requires about 60 percent more investment than in the base scenario, global carbon dioxide emissions from transport peak in the late 2030s, air pollution is reduced and oil demand is lowered," the IEA said.

The rail sector is particularly important because it is the only mode of transport that is widely electrified, which means it is the most energy diverse as electricity can be obtained from different sources.


The report highlighted advances in China, which has overtaken all other countries in terms of network length of both high-speed trains and metros within a single decade.

India is also showing advances, as construction has started on the country's first high-speed rail line. In addition, the total length of metro lines is set to more than triple in the next few years, and two dedicated freight corridors are on track to enter operation by 2020.

Friends of the Earth, a network of environmental organizations in 74 countries, not only agrees that railways can be better for the environment, but added that it is also a safer travel mode compared to air and road.

"Although railways still have environmental impacts they are considerably less than both road and air travel," it said. "A substantial shift of passengers and freight from road and air to rail would benefit everyone," it said.

The organization also pointed that despite accidents, railway travel is still far safer than road. "You are nine times more likely to be killed traveling by private car and 2.5 times more likely by air," the organization said. It also contributes less to noise levels than road and air, it added.


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