Carbon Footprint and Sustainability

The UIC report, “Carbon Footprint of Rail Infrastructure”, analyses the main existing reports and methodologies in the field and provides guidelines, recommendations and best practices for calculation of the carbon content of all phases of rail services, including infrastructure construction.

The report begins with a qualitative comparison of ten reports and documents to gauge how the various methodologies can be compared and used for other purposes in terms of calculation approaches, boundaries, standardisation, applicability, etc. The second phase of the study quantitatively calculates the effect of the methodology on the results using three typical railway corridors representative of the most relevant types of traffic (high-speed, suburban and freight). The three examples selected reflect different geographical countries and contexts: a suburban line in the Netherlands, a high-speed corridor in Japan and freight services in Sweden.

The relevant methodologies are applied to each corridor to quantify the carbon footprint of each one. The different results from the various methodologies are explained, and an analysis is performed to identify the methodology most suitable for implementation in different cases and scenarios.
Based on this analysis, the ifeu study of 2010 emerges as the most accurate, transparent and transposable methodology to be used for the majority of corridors, offering accurate and reliable results with a reasonable amount of data.

The “High-Speed Rail and Sustainability” report and accompanying background study, “Carbon Footprint of High-Speed Rail Lines”, commissioned by UIC, take four case studies from high-speed rail lines - two in Europe and two in Asia - and conduct a transparent, robust assessment of carbon emissions for each route during the planning, construction (track and rolling stock) and operation phases.

The “Carbon Footprint of Rail Infrastructure” report also calculates the payback time required to compensate for CO2 emissions due to rail infrastructure construction in the context of modal shift from more carbon-intensive competitor modes (road or plane transport). The payback time is much shorter than the average lifetime of the infrastructure in all three cases.

Building new rail infrastructure results in reduced CO2 emissions within one to three decades. Traffic is a key factor affecting rapid payback; accurate traffic estimations must therefore be undertaken during the planning phase for new railway infrastructure projects to determine payback in terms of carbon footprint.

The reports are available from the ETF Shop: