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.

The backbone of future sustainable transport system

Railway has a central role to play in decarbonising transport.

As the cleanest and greenest high-volume transport, rail has an essential role in creating sustainable lifestyles and economies. While representing 8% of global passenger and freight transport activity (in passenger km/tonne km), railway represents only 2% of the transport sector emissions. Global Green House gas emissions from transport are continuing to rise, accounting for 14% of all emissions in 2018. Rail is bucking this trend and has been the only mode to actually reduce its emissions, down by 2% between 2000 and 2018. Transport demand is expected to double in the same time we have to decarbonise, before 2050. It is clear that today’s challenges can only be met with rail as the backbone of a seamlessly connected sustainable mobility system. Rail is a central pillar to transformative climate action in transport. It is the fastest and most cost-efficient way to decarbonise people’s daily mobility and logistics chains. Unleashing the full benefits of rail for decarbonisation, will be key to significantly cutting emissions from the transport sector in line with the Paris Agreement.

Rail networks are frugal by design:

  • 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 global sustainability issue that rail can help solve. 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. 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 Platform

Our vision:

A railway that supports a green recovery as the backbone of sustainable mobility. Connectivity that contributes to healthy and sustainable lifestyles and economies on every continent – that is zero emissions, a community hub, accessible for all, and is both biodiverse and a good neighbour.

UIC and its members work together to shine a light on how rail can be part of the solution to the challenge of sustainable development as well as find solutions to make our railways even cleaner, greener and quieter. The Sustainability Platform focuses on 5 main environmental sustainability topics.

Our Sectors:

The UIC Sustainability Platform, meet in plenary twice a year and is currently chaired by Christine Vannoppen (LINEAS). The platform works with a steering committee to provide direction. To get involved contact Sustainability Unit.

The sustainability platform connects with other UIC departments such as the Freight, Passenger and Rail System departments on the above and other sustainability topics including Sustainable Procurement, sustainable finance, inclusive stations, alternative fuels, and climate change adaptation.

Key activities

  • Representing the railway sector internationally and advocating its sustainability at international events, including the UN Conference of Parties, in order to raise the profile of the railways on the international stage
  • Contributing railway content to publications for international sustainability groups and organisations in order to represent the interests of the global railway community
  • Collecting and reporting the environmental database and assessments for railways
  • Developing and updating international railway solutions (IRS)
  • Developing and hosting tools to support the mission of the platform including Rail Sustainability Index, EcoPassenger and Ecotransit
  • Responding quickly to rapid changes to the environment and being proactive in proposing projects to fight climate change, address resource depletion, loss of biodiversity, social inequality, and pollution

The Global Rail Sustainability Taskforce

New in 2021, a new taskforce formed as part of the platform, with member representation from all around the world. For any further information please contact Sustainability Unit.

The taskforce purpose is:

  • Being an inspirational leadership team representing all regions and diverse perspectives
  • Uniting the rail industry on sustainability, with a customer focus and other important stakeholders
  • Confidently and enthusiastically championing the role of modal shift from aviation and private road vehicles to rail and connected sustainable forms of transport.
  • Promoting sustainable connectivity and the role of rail in a just and green recovery from the COVID 19 pandemic that accelerates the path to a decarbonised economy
  • Providing strategic oversight and direction to the UIC on the topic of Sustainability
  • Focusing UIC activities on the key challenges of the members and the needs of rail customers
  • Giving direction on both priority themes and high-level risks and opportunities – Long Term strategy to position rail as the backbone of sustainable mobility
  • Creating a united vision with key messages and identifying the most important collective targets and actions

The UIC Sustainability Unit

The UIC Sustainability Unit is the support secretariate for the Sustainability Platform. We consider it our mission to help empower the global railway community to be a driving force in a greener future through collaborative knowledge and advocacy.
For any further information please contact Sustainability Unit.

Global Rail Sustainability Report

Global Rail Sustainability Report - 2022

- PDF - 2.9 Mb

Share this
Thursday 23 September 2021