Sustainable land use

The railway sector plays an important societal role in terms of biodiversity and the ecosystem, both in urban and rural areas. By 2050, railway infrastructure should be part of the natural landscape, becoming a “green network” connecting biotopes, enabling species migration and providing diverse habitats for many different species.

The Sustainable Land Use (SLU) Network is part of the UIC Environment, Energy and Sustainability Platform and provides strategy, guidance and leadership for UIC members with respect to the following issues:

  • Vegetation control
  • Biodiversity
  • Soil quality

The SLU Network aims to provide a mechanism for the exchange of knowledge within the railway community and external parties in the domain of sustainable land use and promote the importance of these issues in the railway sector.

Chair: Michael BELOW, DB
Chair: Thomas SCHUH, OBB-Infra

Vegetation control

The railways are actively developing a holistic approach to integrated vegetation management on railway tracks. The aim of vegetation control is to keep the railway track area plant-free, as encroaching weeds can hinder the safe passage and braking of trains, as well as control-command and signalling system functioning.

1. TRISTRAM project (2019-2020)

The railway sector urgently needs to transition from herbicide-based to non-herbicide-based vegetation control. The TRISTRAM project aims to provide a global strategy to facilitate and increase information shared between railways on all aspects of integrated vegetation control, with a particular focus on investigations into and experience with alternative methods of vegetation control on railway tracks, including the associated regulatory constraints. The global strategy will be future proof in terms of legislation and regulation at EU and national levels.

For more information, please visit the TRISTRAM project website:

UIC Strategy on the future of vegetation control

- PDF - 1004.3 kb


2. HERBIE project (2017-2018)
Resulting from a comprehensive survey conducted by the SLU, the “UIC Guidelines for Integrated Vegetation Management” and “State of the Art and Integrated Assessment of Weed Control and Management of Railways” are available at:

Herbie: UIC Guidelines for Integrated Vegetation Management
August 2018

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Herbie: State of the Art and Integrated Assessment of Weed Control and Management of Railways
December 2018

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The railways are aware of their responsibility in terms of safe operation and optimum environmental performance. Thus, the SLU members have developed dedicated and transparent guidelines and have implemented integrated systems for vegetation management comprising a variety of methods and techniques: construction-related, mechanical, chemical, thermal and biological, depending on the area of application and the specific requirements with regard to railway operation. In contrast to agriculture, railway companies do not use herbicides for plant protection. Rather, herbicides are used to guarantee that the railways are operated safely and reliably. The most promising herbicide alternatives identified within the project, such as electro-weeding, hot water, hot foam, organic acids and geotextiles, have been selected for further evaluation.

3. IRS 70723: Technical aspects of vegetation control and tree risk management – Guidance and recommendations (2015-2020)
IRS 70723 is an update of UIC Leaflet 723 and is the result of collaboration between the Track Expert Group within the UIC Rail System department and the SLU Network within the UIC Sustainable Development unit.

4. Chemical weed control (2013 –2014)
UIC commissioned research in 2003 on the reduction of herbicides in the railways (see link below) and initiated a further project in 2011 to update this information.


Railway corridors can be both a hazard and a lifeline for ecosystems. Transport infrastructure can degrade ecosystems through land consumption, landscape fragmentation, barrier effects, emissions and wildlife mortality from collisions with train vehicles. These can threaten the viability of sensitive populations and alter ecosystem dynamics. However, conversely the green infrastructure associated with rail can also provide an important role in connecting wildlife. Railways are relatively undisturbed corridors including a mosaic of habitats such as embankments, ditches, and woodland providing linear habitat features for dispersal and foraging for a broad range of species. These features within many parts of railways infrastructure can link otherwise isolated habitats, bringing about a more joined up network for wildlife as well as for rail users. Passengers and society are benefiting from the ecosystem services provided by railway infrastructure properties. Moreover, railway infrastructure sites often serve as a last refuge for rare and endangered plants, which have lost their habitat in intensively used agricultural landscapes.

In the context of the urgent need to decarbonise our transport systems, rail is expected to expand its reach and capacity as we shift from other unsustainable modes of transport to rail for both passenger and freight traffic. Across Europe, existing lines are predicted to get busier and new lines are planned, and with this growth there is risk to biodiversity.

As transport is an important factor in the degradation of natural ecosystems and biodiversity, the SLU experts are helping UIC to promote the railways as an environmentally sound means of transport.

rEvERsE project (2020-2022)

Biodiversity is a crucial topic with respect to the environmental performance of the railways, and is just as important as the sector’s contribution to climate protection. As the railways can contribute to biodiversity protection in various respects, this project aims to identify the ecological effect of the railways on wildlife and habitats amongst SLU members, while also highlighting the positive impact the railways can have if managed in a biodiversity-sensitive way.

The rEvERsE project offers a contribution to SDG 15 (Life on land). In addition, the project offers solutions to facilitate environmentally friendly development of the railway system in Europe.

If you wish to participate in the rEvERsE project, please visit:

Soil quality

The Polluted Soils and Remediation Group was created in 2007 under the SLU Network to facilitate exchange on technical issues and monitor the amendments of Directive 2004/35/EC. The aim of the group is to create awareness at top management level of the need to use land (soil) as a natural resource, without limiting its value for future generations.

1. State of the art on polluted soil in the railways
The UIC Soil Network was founded to determine the state of the art with regard to soil pollution on railways and remediation of such pollution in Europe. The main objective of the network’s research was to help harmonise the approach to polluted railway facilities within the European Union. The main conclusions from the research were as follows:

  • Soil pollution on European railways is a significant topic.
  • European legislation will result in the introduction or amendment of national laws in the domain of soil management.
  • There are major differences between the member states of the European Union in relation to:
    • the status quo of legislation in the domain of soil pollution,
    • progress in respect of soil remediation,
    • working methods.
  • There is widespread support for a common knowledge base.

2. Contaminated soil assessment scheme (2008-2010)
UIC’s polluted soil remediation experts have completed a project on establishment of a contaminated soil assessment scheme. The objectives of the project were to provide:

  • recommendations for improvement of environmental data handling,
  • recommendations for implementation of a data system,
  • recommendations for management of risk with regard to polluted soil.

The project report, based on a survey of European UIC members on soil pollution and remediation, is available at:

Workshops and events

Second International Workshop on Vegetation Management: What Future for Herbicide? (May 2016)
This event was organised by the UIC SLU Network and focused on key issues and developments at European level in relation to herbicide management in the railways. Documentation is available at:

UIC International Workshop Vegetation Management (October 2013)

Polluted soil seminar: Managing the financial and environmental risk of soil contamination of railway properties (October 2010)
Railway companies face pressure to develop abandoned or partially used railway land. In this context, it is essential that railway companies manage the financial and environmental risks associated with soil contamination on their property. The objective of this seminar was to exchange railway-specific know-how and experience and provide information on:

  • the problems associated with polluted soil
  • the state of the art within the railway community
  • awareness at managerial level of the need for sustainable land use
  • the challenge of intensifying cooperation both within the railway community and with third parties
  • exploring efficient solutions
  • demonstration of best practices

The target audience for the seminar comprised environmental coordinators and project managers involved in property redevelopment.

Polluted soil seminar - Presentations - 2010

- PDF - 21.3 Mb



Memorandum of understanding with WWF-CEE

UIC signed a memorandum of understanding with WWF Central-Eastern Europe. The main purpose of this MoU is to promote environmentally conscious rail transport in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe by enhancing international cooperation between the Parties. Under the mission statement of UIC Sustainable Land Use Sector within the Sustainability unit, the Parties will establish mutual dialogue in domains of common interest and an option for information exchange in the following fields:

  • UIC
    • Biodiversity
    • Vegetation management
    • Soil quality
    • Water Quality
    • Ecological connectivity & corridors
    • Large carnivores
    • Landscapes including forest and wetlands
MoU WWF-CEE and UIC 2020

- PDF - 383 kb


Mr Davenne’s and Mr Beckmann’s speeches are available at the following links:

For further information, please see the video of the event on the UIC YouTube channel:

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