Sustainable land management plays a major role in reducing negative impacts on the environment, but can also offer benefits in terms of operational safety and weather resilience. The railways occupy, own and manage a large and diverse estate, and the way this land is managed can make a big difference to safe and reliable services, as well as the wildlife that lives on and near the land. Neglecting railway vegetation management poses potential risks for the track structure, as well as operational and personal safety.
This new report describes trends and alternative methods to conventional, chemical herbicide-based treatments used in traditional vegetation control, as well as future perspectives and opportunities. It also provides detailed information on the regulatory framework and the need for transformation in vegetation control in European railways.
The UIC Sustainability Unit and its members commissioned IZT GmbH to produce the TRISTRAM report on the current state of the art. It was developed on the basis of an online survey on the TRISTRAM project website with the active engagement of members and steered by UIC’s Vegetation Management Working Group. This comprehensive report on the current status and the future of vegetation control has been approved by European railways.
The report will be useful to anyone interested in railway maintenance, and lineside vegetation management in particular. It will also be useful for EU and national policy-makers involved in sustainable land use, representatives of railway companies and vegetation management specialists, as well as other interested parties such as suppliers, environmental NGOs or citizens who wish to know more about why and how the railways need to manage vegetation on their tracks.
Key elements for a sustainable lineside
Updating and taking forward the recommendations of the UIC Strategy on Future Vegetation Control published in 2020, the findings from TRISTRAM indicate that rather than a single solution, there is a need to adopt a more integrated, flexible, multi-approach method. It is clear that a more environmentally-sensitive holistic strategy is required for vegetation control. With this in mind, the strategy comprises the following key steps:
- Optimisation of herbicide use
- Alternative methods
- New contracts
- Application technologies
- Digital tools
The final TRISTRAM report, entitled Future Vegetation Control of European Railways – State-of-the-Art Report, sets the main goal for European railways as “avoiding the use of chemicals wherever possible and minimising environmental impacts and risks to human health”. The report states that European railways are a pioneering sector in the transition from widespread herbicide use to herbicide-free land use management. Railway digitalisation also plays a role in vegetation control methods, and the report highlights some examples of the use of highly-automated technical solutions to improve efficiency and effectiveness.
The report calls on the European Commission to foster technical research on environmentally friendly technologies for vegetation management methods and to improve a number of alternative methods for railways. The new initiatives following Shift2Rail should cover this environmental topic.
Railways will continue to research cost-effective measures to ensure their competitiveness. This report highlights the urgent need to make railways more sustainable and remain open to any innovative new approaches that may arise. In the coming year, members of the UIC Sustainable Land Use Sector will aim to further improve their overall environmental performance, with a special focus on sustainable land use in general integrated vegetation control, biodiversity, and soil and water quality.
Access the report
The report is presented on the project website: https://uic.org/projects/article/tristram and can be consulted at https://uic.org/IMG/pdf/uic_future_vegetation_control_of_european_railways.pdf
For more information on the UIC Sustainable Land Use Sector’s ongoing activities, please visit https://uic.org/sustainable-development/sustainable-land-use/