The Impact Of Energy-efficient Transportation On Boston’s Urban Planning – As the most sustainable form of mass transport, rail is critical to the fight against global warming. For this contribution to continue to be boosted, however, the railway companies must reverse the decline of the railways in the market share. Reducing rail greenhouse gas emissions will help attract passenger and freight customers looking to reduce their own carbon footprints.
Read more about how key rail stakeholders can help ensure the sustainability, growth and competitiveness of this essential mode of transport.
- 1 The Impact Of Energy-efficient Transportation On Boston’s Urban Planning
- 2 Amtrak’s Fastest Rail Cars Are Being Built Inside This New York Plant
The Impact Of Energy-efficient Transportation On Boston’s Urban Planning
The train is the most sustainable mode of transport. Increasing its share of passengers and cargo is crucial to achieving net-zero targets.
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No form of mass transport has more potential to help combat global warming than rail. It is one of the most energy-efficient modes of transport, responsible for 9% of global motor passenger movement and 7% of freight shipping—but only 3% of energy use of transport, according to the International Energy Agency. It uses 80% less energy than trucks per tonne of goods carried and has a four-to-one advantage over cars in terms of its emissions intensity. As a result, rail accounted for only 4% of global transport industry emissions in 2019.
Unfortunately, despite its key role in helping the world meet the emission reduction goals of the Paris Agreement, rail has been losing share to the most polluting modes of transport in most major markets around the world. Indeed, the ongoing shift in freight transport from bulk to container-based intermodal transport, particularly for consumer goods, may continue to favor trucks over rail. And the survey indicates that people who sought the protection of their cars during the COVID-19 pandemic may be reluctant to return to public transport, even as the threat passes.
There is an essential environmental case for reversing the loss of rail market share—and a strong business case too. As sustainable as rail transport is now, there is still considerable room for improvement through the development of alternative drives, greater operational efficiency, greater reliance on renewable energy, and more. Governments around the world are already making plans to increase the sustainability of railways. For them, greater sustainability means not only a smaller carbon footprint but also lower costs throughout their operations and supply chains. As a result, passenger and freight customers looking to reduce their carbon footprints and costs are likely to find rail increasingly attractive.
In short, greater sustainability is essential for the future growth of railways. But that growth will require new technologies and more support from all stakeholders, including policy makers, investors, suppliers and rail service providers themselves. Here’s how to get on board.
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Recent data on the state of the global rail industry is not encouraging. In most countries, rail is underrepresented in terms of freight carried (measured in metric kilometers) and passenger-kilometres traveled (see Exhibit 1). And while there are exceptions, very little has shown signs of growth in recent years.
Between 2000 and 2018, passenger and freight trains in Europe were essentially stagnant, falling by 1 and 3 percentage points, respectively. In India, the share of freight and passengers fell by 10 percentage points, despite the country’s efforts to increase investments in railways. And while freight in the United States managed to increase its share by 4 percentage points, passenger transport is still insignificant.
The most notable exceptions are China and Australia. Transportation gained 23 percentage points over the period of nearly two decades in China, although freight lost 11 percentage points. The opposite is true in Australia: freight has gained 17 percentage points while the share of passengers traveling by train is still small.
To make matters worse, several trends are hindering future growth. Passenger rail travel has fallen considerably around the world since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although rail travel has returned to normal in China, it has yet to fully recover in either the US or Europe, where it is still down to 78% and 87% of pre-pandemic levels, respectively. And a recent survey on urban mobility ranked physical distance and cleanliness far above sustainability among respondents’ urban mobility priorities—and trains riskiest among the choices of urban transport.
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Cargo, too, is suffering. For example, e-commerce in the United States, which relies heavily on trucking, has grown 18% annually since 2000—and exploded during the pandemic. This growth rate is much faster than that of industries such as agriculture, mining, and automobiles, which typically ship goods by rail. In Europe, rail freight has been adversely affected by the structural challenges facing the steel, energy, paper and automotive industries, among others. As a result, the volume and mix of freight transported by rail is changing.
Meanwhile, transport providers are working hard to become more sustainable. Electric vehicles — both cars and trucks — are gaining market share; maritime companies are experimenting with alternative energy sources, such as battery electric and hydrogen drives; and even airlines are committing to sustainable fuel sources in the hope of becoming carbon neutral in the coming decades. Such efforts have the potential to win over even more customers—passengers and carriers alike—as they grow increasingly concerned about their environmental impact.
If the railway is to expand and grow, it must continue to attract passengers and freight customers looking to reduce their own carbon footprints. The effort will require progress to be made in the three types of emissions for which rail operators are directly or indirectly responsible (see Exhibit 2):
Railway companies can pull several levers to reduce their GHG emissions along the value chain. They can reduce their Scope 1 emissions in three ways: by using alternative cleaner drive technologies for locomotives, improving energy efficiency in operations, and maximizing utilization of current assets. They can reduce their Scope 2 emissions by increasing the share of renewable energy purchased for their rail networks, buildings, and other activities and through cleaner locomotive drives, efficiency improvements, and use of assets. Companies can help reduce Scope 3 emissions both upstream and downstream by actively promoting sustainability along the value chain—engaging with suppliers on decarbonisation levers and setting benchmarks green procurement, for example (see Exhibit 3).
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According to the International Energy Agency, 55% of the energy consumed by the global rail industry in 2020 was generated by diesel (85% of which was used to power trains), 44% by electricity, and 1% by biofuels . Reducing Scope 1 emissions resulting from burning diesel—about 300 million tons of GHG emissions annually—will therefore be critical to the industry’s sustainability efforts. If global rail is to reach net zero by 2050, it must reduce its use of diesel to just 4% of the total amount of energy used, and replace either renewable electricity or some other form of propulsion.
Already, operators are making the transition to electrification. As of 2016, electric locomotives accounted for 70% of passenger kilometers traveled and 48% of freight kilometers shipped (see Exhibit 4). But the share of diesel locomotives worldwide is still high. About 50% of all trains in Western Europe and Asia are diesel powered, 75% in the Middle East and Africa, and a staggering 99% in the Americas.
Therefore, the first lever in reducing the industry’s Scope 1 emissions involves either the continued use of electric locomotives—which must be powered by renewable energy in order not to increase Scope 2 emissions ( see below)—or the development of new drive options.
Expansion of Network Electrification. While many rail operators have been moving towards electrification, the pace varies considerably by country (see Exhibit 5). Countries in Asia and Europe have significantly increased their share of electrified passenger and freight kilometres, and many are making electrification central to their net zero transport plans. In China, for example, the share of electrified tracks jumped from around 20% in 2000 to around 70% in 2019. And Germany’s Electrification Plus program, launched in 2021, seeks to ensure that 100% of the country’s rail network is traveled by electricity. or neutral climate.
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Elsewhere, however, efforts to electrify rail networks lag behind. This is especially true in regions where distances are long, the infrastructure required for electrification is very sparsely dispersed, and electrification can be prohibitively expensive. The Association of American Railroads, for example, estimates that the electrification of the 140, 000 miles of freight lines of the United States would cost millions of dollars per track-mile. And replacing even half of the nation’s 24,000 diesel locomotives would cost close to $100 billion.
Indeed, as of 2019, diesel locomotives made up 68% of the global installed base of 170,000 locomotives. Replacing them all would be too expensive, as electric locomotives are much more expensive than diesel and cannot be used in many regions. In short, while further electrification of the network is likely in regions where electrification has already taken place, perhaps through a mix of public and private investments, it is simply not viable elsewhere.
Development of New Energy Technologies. Full electrification is not the only solution to the diesel emissions problem. Diesel-electric locomotives, for example, can run either on their own diesel power or on electrified tracks, where available. Hybrid locomotives rely on smaller diesel engines as well as rechargeable storage systems that run on excess energy or energy from regenerative braking. But neither type offers the zero emissions of electric locomotives.
) as an energy source. Its success in reducing the industry’s carbon emissions, however, will depend on several factors. The first is the development of the technology and infrastructure necessary for production, distribution, and
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