Making railway greener, quieter and more energy efficient.

Sustainable development is considered one of the main global challenges facing the world today and is an important aspect of transport development. UIC and its members work continuously to demonstrate how rail can be part of the solution to the challenge of sustainable development.

Achievements to be highlighted

COP 24 - Katowice
Launch of the Eco scoring network

The Future of Rail, Opportunities for energy and the environment, by International Energy Agency (IEA) in collaboration with UIC, 2019
UIC and IEA Railway Handbook
Global Sustainability Report 2012

General context of the business activity

Railway has a central role to play in decarbonising transport.

While representing 8% of global passenger and freight transport activity (in passenger km/tonne km), railway represents 2% of the transport sector emissions and is therefore a particularly efficient and sustainable mode of transport.

The rail networks benefit from a decisive advantage linked to frugality, which is a cardinal virtue for tackling climate change issues:

  • Frugality in energy consumption: whether in terms of energy per capita or globally, railways and public transport are extremely efficient: passenger rail transport requires less than 1/10th of the energy needed to move an individual by car or by aeroplane;
  • Frugality in public space: whether in urban or rural areas, the occupation of public space is minimal, and the promotion of rail transport will once again give citizens the possibility of enjoying more public space with better air and soil quality with a greater level of safety;
  • Frugality in terms of life cycle: the lifetime of railways can be up to 50 years, minimising the need to reinvest regularly in non-renewable resources.

Climate change is not the only issue faced by the railway sector. The railway sector indeed plays an important societal role in relation with the ecosystem and biodiversity, both in urban and rural areas.

By 2050, railway infrastructure should be an integral part of the natural landscape and therefore should become a “green network” connecting biotopes, enabling species migration and providing diverse habitats for many different species. Consequently, UIC is working on other key issues, such as the promotion of the sustainable use of resources (ballast, concrete, steel, water etc.), the reduction of external costs by means of careful monitoring and controlling methods of noise and vibration, sustainable land use, and of airborne particulate matter, in order to help the railways to contribute to the achievement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

The UIC Sustainability unit has developed cooperative links with various stakeholders dealing with the issues described above.

These collective efforts must be reinforced and must become more widespread, for example by improving data sharing to better assess rail performance and communicate the benefits it can offer as a sustainable transport mode.

Reference to how the business is organised

The unit’s activities are governed by the UIC Sustainability Platform, a meeting gathering together members twice a year and currently chaired by Willy Bontinck (SNCB). The unit also works with a Core Group to provide strategic direction as well as a number of working groups, and is involved in several key projects.

Key challenges facing this business

  • Representing the railway sector internationally and advocating its sustainability at international events such as the UN Conference of Parties and preparatory meetings or Sum4all conferences in order to raise the profile of the railways on the international stage
  • Reinforcing cooperation with other UIC departments such as the Freight, Passenger and Rail System departments
  • Contributing to internal reports on core topics of relevance to the Sustainability unit and UIC as a whole, as well as external reports for international groups and organisations in order to represent the interests of the global railway community
  • Responding quickly to rapid changes to the environment and being proactive in proposing new projects to fight climate change, as well as other environmental issues (resource depletion, loss of biodiversity, increasing inequality, pollution, over-production and consumption, etc.)
  • Developing corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities relating to both technical and environmental topics and other issues
  • Strengthening member participation and involvement
  • Improving the environmental database and assessments for railways
  • Assisting members with IRS development.
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Tuesday 13 October 2020