|Alstom's iLint Coradia is powered by Hydrogen Fuel Cells. When the hydrogen is made with renewable energy (see below), they are Zero Emission transport. Expect to see a lot more of them around Europe in the near future|
Rail is already the greenest mode of travel after bicycles, even more so if electric and run on renewable energy. For example, 100 tonnes of freight going 1000 Kms by train will produce 100 tonnes (75%) less CO2 than trucks travelling over the same distance. If it's so good I hear you ask, why isn't everything going by train? The European Union has been asking itself the same question. In 2006 it established the European Railway Agency to encourage rail transport and in 2011 it called for 30% of road freight to be carried by trains by 2030 and 50% by 2050. Despite a number of improvements, 75% of freight still went by road in 2018 and rail's share had actually fallen slightly to 17%. Rail travel is still only used by 8% of travellers and some 126 out of 365 former lined have been closed. Some of the reasons for this are listed below, along with some possible solutions. Most of the following information comes from the Transport and Environment website. This is the group made up of 63 European environmental groups plus one each from Russia and the Ukraine as mentioned in the previous post.
Challenges and solutions
- Road transport is currently
faster and more flexible
Rail is often more expensive
- Road Freight has lower capital costs
- Lack of interoperability
Because 50% of Europe's freight goes across
borders, the European Union has established 11 rail freight corridors (RFCs) to facilitate cross border movements. It has also opened up rail travel to greater competition. The Green Corridors Program is
an EU initiative which began as a trial in Sweden in 2010 to showcase efficient
transport solutions which integrated road, rail and shipping as well as taking
into account economic, social and environmental aspects. It is now being
extended across the Baltic states and
the EU. Railway authorities and lobby groups are calling for more harmonisation, more line electrification, increased capacity for longer trains and the installation of a centralised traffic system. Through such initiatives it hopes to reduce lead times by 50%, increase punctuality by 95% and capacity by 50%. It also expects freight costs to fall by 25%.
However, according to Lucy Gilliam, T & E's Aviation and Shipping campaigner, commenting on the EU's Year of Rail this year, it isn't always about expensive new infrastructure. Much could be achieved by having easier booking systems and modern IT solutions. "Upgrading commuter rail lines and deploying 21st Century IT technology may not be as sexy as new high speed lines, but they do provide better value for the millions of Europeans who rely on rail every day." See McKinsey and Comapany's October report for more simple ways to increase rail traffic.
- Cultural change
New technology, automation and digitisation could also speed things up. Side loading trucks for example, would
reduce the amount of time spent loading and unloading but automation is being resisted by unions. The European
rail sector currently employs 90,000 people. However, the fact that rail freight is likely to
increase significantly in the next decade or so, means that fears about job losses may not materialise. With demand for coal, gas and petroleum products likely to diminish in future, job loss and mass unemployment are more likely if the sector fails to adapt to customer demands and seek more markets. Less parochialism and a wider concern for the EU (and the world) as a whole may also help. At present countries are often willing to pay for upgrades in their own jurisdiction, but are less willing to contribute to the greater good.
As far as transparency goes,
Transport and Environment suggests that simple measures such as adding GPS trackers to freight, digitisation and more collaboration
between countries and the various actors, plus better communication with end users would also encourage greater uptake.
- Competing against airlines for passenger transport
Air travel produces around 184 million tonnes of CO2 in Europe (4.2% of the total) with intra EU flights accounting for one third of this. Yet as far as passenger transport goes, rail travel produces an average of 77 times less CO2 over distances under 250 Km. For this reason, many European countries are trying to discourage short haul flights in favour of rail or opting for 'polluter pays' principles.
With 2021 being the Year of Rail, France recently announced that it would ban flights between cities where rail connections are available that take less than two and a half hours.
Austria has put a €30 tax on flights under 217 km and banned flights which can be completed by train in under 3 hours.
The Netherlands has tried to impose similar bans since 2013. However, a 2019 ban on flights to Brussels from Amsterdam was found to be illegal under the EU’s freedom of movement rules.
In the USA where there is a 40% reliance on rail for freight, economies of scale are possible both through standardisation of lines and through having much longer trains. US trains are allowed to be 3 Km long whereas the maximum in the EU is 1 Km. This represents a saving of over 1/3 of the cost. The effects are self re -enforcing. Cheaper rail means more companies will use it and greater volume means cheaper and or more frequent service. While most US trains still run on diesel which not only produces high emissions but is subject to price volatility according to the price of oil, both the USA (see below) and several European countries are trialling battery -electric trains including Stadler (Swiss), Siemens and Alstom (both German).
Stadler already has orders for 99 of its trains which run on both batteries and overhead wires. Alstom's battery electric is ideally suited to places which do not have electrified overhead wires. The Bombadier Company's Talent 3 developed in conjunction with several partners and support from the German government, was the first battery powered train to go into passenger service in 2018. Thirty -two such trains have now been ordered for the Tyrol region between Austria and Italy. Siemen's 31 battery electric trains which will be operating on the East Brandenburg network from 2024, will save 4.4 million litres of fuel, produce zero emissions depending on the electricity mix and reduce regional CO2 emissions by 11,500 tonnes.
Alstom (see above) also has hydrogen fuel cell trains operating in
Sweden, Germany and France and has orders for 400 more. Denmark has just ordered 100 of them which are scheduled to begin service in 2024. When run on ‘green hydrogen’ – i.e. that made from renewable
energy, such trains will have zero carbon emissions. Fortunately Australia, Namibia and India are leading the
charge to produce hydrogen from renewable energy. For more information on how it works see the video in this article by the ABC.
At this stage hydrogen is still more expensive than fossil
fuels and the infrastructure for it is still largely absent – even for long distance trucks, but this will become even more important for other forms of
transport such as shipping and aviation and also for use in energy intensive
industries. Still, we are witnessing the birth of a new industrial revolution - a green one, where new players and coalitions are emerging and with fortunes to be made by those who succeed. This is just as well because we are in a race against time.
Next: Good News in Shipping and
Aviation, subject to some diversions without notice!