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Potential of modal shift to rail to reduce GHG emissions

Rail transport has significant potential to lower CO2 emissions through modal shift, concludes expert study.

The study, “Potential of modal shift to rail transport - Study on the projected effects on GHG emissions and transport volumes” was commissioned by the Community of European Railway and Infrastructure Companies (CER CER Community of the European Railways ) and the International Union of Railways (UIC) to consider the potential levels of modal shift to rail, and in particular the greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction savings that could result. It was undertaken by the consultancies CE Delft (Netherlands) and TRT (Italy).

The study gives important detail on how modal shift to rail can help reach the targets outlined in the European Commission’s recent Transport White Paper*. An assessment of the available infrastructure capacity shows that through maximising use of existing infrastructure alone, a 30-40% growth in train-kilometres in 2020 could be accommodated. If this increased capacity was allocated equally to freight and passenger services, rail freight traffic could grow by 83% and passenger transport by 23% over the whole network.

The report says there is particular scope for rail freight to increase its market share in certain segments such as international containerised transport, with the feasibility of growth already clearly demonstrated in countries such as Switzerland, and at the port of Rotterdam where levels of modal split that include the doubling of rail traffic have been set for hinterland container traffic.

For passenger transport, the GHG reduction potential is less clear-cut, although the maximum modal shift calculated has been a reduction of 70 Mtonne CO2-eq. in the EU-27 (9% of passenger transport emissions).

The study also considered the implications of the ‘2050 vision’ of transport Commissioner Siim Kallas, outlined in Berlin in 2010. Under his proposals, rail would be the dominant mode for long-distance transport (corresponding to a 38% modal share for total freight transport and a 27% share in passenger transport).

If implemented, this would result in an annual GHG reduction of 238 Mtonne of CO2-eq., or 21% of total transport emissions. While this would require heavy investment in rail infrastructure (EUR 1,300-2,000 billion), full internalisation of external and infrastructure costs could contribute significantly to the funding of this, the report adds.

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Potential of modal shift to rail transport
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