Reports 20 Jan 2009

Railways and the environment: building on the railways' environmental strengths

As one of the most efficient and environmentally friendly ways to move people and goods, railways have a tremendous potential to reduce the environmental impact of transport and improve the quality of life of EU citizens.

European policy up to now has failed to properly address the impacts of increasing transport demand, which is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions and a driver of global climate change. There is now an urgent need for action to cut transport-related CO2 emissions.

It is widely accepted that a modal shift towards railways can contribute to meeting EU targets on climate protection and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. A stronger role for rail will help to achieve real progress towards the 2020 target of a 20% cut in the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions. However, concerted action must be taken by governments and policy-makers to help bring this about.

The rail sector is doing its part, having already agreed on a voluntary target for 2020, to cut its 1990 levels of specifi c emissions by 30%. It is also funding research to work towards standardised technologies that will further improve environmental performance.

More needs to be done now to get traffi c off the roads and on to rail. Real prices have to be charged that refl ect the real costs caused by polluters. The wider use of market-based instruments will bring about more cost-oriented pricing and fairer market conditions, which would lead to modal shift, behavioural changes, and help pay for improvements in rail infrastructure.

The greater use of combined transport will allow each mode to use its strengths best – particularly over long distances, where the use of road and rail can complement rather than compete with each other.