Sunday 20 February 2022

Rail in the fight against carbon emissions: doubling the share of rail for a true climate transition, Jean-Pierre Farandou

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What follows is a summary of the key messages from Jean-Pierre Farandou, CEO of SNCF, in the publication entitled “Le fer contre le carbone. Doubler la place du train pour une vraie transition climatique” (“Rail in the fight against carbon emissions : doubling the share of rail for a true climate transition”)

Rail transport is a solution to the challenge of climate change

Because it’s urgent

Rail transport has three important environmental advantages: it saves on CO2, energy and land use. Rail is desperately needed to decarbonise, ease saturation in cities and on motorways and reduce consumption of electricity, which is becoming more expensive.

Because transport is the primary source of greenhouse gas emissions

Rail has to be developed because it is currently the only mode of transport that is clean and immediately available. It is the transport mode for short and long distances in France and in Europe, both for passengers and freight.

The goal is to double the modal share of freight by 2030 and dramatically increase passenger numbers to double passenger transport modal share during the 2030s.

To reconcile mobility and environmental protection, we must tackle transport, which is the primary source of greenhouse gas emissions in the context of human activity.

To reduce emissions in the transport sector, we need to make two major changes - and each of the two is necessary. On the one hand, we need to ‘green’ all polluting transport modes (car, bus, lorry, plane, boat, trains with diesel traction or carbon electricity). On the other hand, we must organise a massive shift from polluting transport modes toward low- or no-pollution modes.

A shift of 10% of modal share (freight and passenger) from road to rail in France would enable an emissions reduction of between 8 and 12 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year. “This will achieve 22% to 33% of France’s overall commitment to decarbonising transport by 2030”.

Take action in respect of both infrastructure and services

Large-scale investment in developing and modernising the network appears necessary to increase volume.


For passenger transport, infrastructure development means:

  • building numerous new high-speed lines
  • rollout of light rail vehicles on France’s secondary rail lines
  • developing long-distance services on poorly serviced routes

Improving freight’s attractiveness compared to road transport necessarily requires investment in unblocking major rail hubs with alternative solutions, improving capacity performance on the routes, adapting the gauge to changes in long and heavy trains, and restoring and developing access to the freight network.

A massive investment in modernisation and digitalisation of the network appears necessary to increase volumes by generalising centralised control of the network and equipping lines with ERTMS.


To encourage passengers to travel more by train, we need to:

  • take action on pricing
  • improve customer service quality
  • revive freight transport
  • promote intermodality to attract greater numbers of passengers to rail
  • encourage changes in household behaviour
  • accelerate modal shift to rail by means of carbon pricing and regulation of use

Inventing a new type of governance

This investment programme could have the support of the French transport infrastructure financing agency (AFIT France), or a new agency for the duration of the work.

Investment and return on investment

A massive investment plan

Doubling transport volume requires a major multiannual investment programme with visibility and dedicated financing. Currently being refined, the order of magnitude is in line with Germany, which has just decided to devote 86 billion euro to its network over ten years.

Return on investment

In addition to its environmental benefits, with countries such as Germany, Japan, China and Korea accelerating the development of their railways, this initiative is an opportunity for French industry to demonstrate its leadership in Europe and worldwide. A powerful innovation programme to invent the railways of the future has been launched as part of France’s fourth Investment for the Future (PIA4) programme. Tens of thousands of jobs will be created in the industrial and construction sectors and in railway companies. These will be attractive roles with little likelihood of being outsourced, and will generate added value for the French economy.

For more information, please read the publication in French:

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