Sustainability in Europe with Train Travel accompanied with Rail Europe


Scenic view of mountains and scattering houses from Menthon castle in Haute-Savoie
© Adobe stock - Scenic view of mountains and scattering houses from Menthon castle in Haute-Savoie

Reading time: 0 minPublished on 25 October 2023

  • Train is the only sustainable, comfortable and easy way to travel in Europe.

  • By making it easier to book train tickets, Rail Europe encourages mobility by train and meets the expectations of today's travellers, who are increasingly aware of the impact of their journeys.

European countries have taken significant steps top prioritize sustainable development.

The European Union (EU) has been at the forefront of this effort. The EU's 2020 Climate and Energy Package set a target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by 2020, and the European Green Deal aims to make the EU carbon-neutral by 2050. In addition, the EU has established a number of sustainability initiatives, such as the Circular Economy Action Plan and the Sustainable Finance Strategy, to promote sustainable practices across different sectors.

Transportation: With an extensive public transportation system that includes buses, trains, and trams, Europeans are less dependent on cars than many other parts of the world. In addition, Europe has set ambitious targets for reducing carbon emissions from transportation, with a goal of reducing emissions from new cars by 37.5% by 2030. This has led to the development of more fuel-efficient vehicles, electric cars, and an increased focus on cycling and walking as alternative modes of transportation.

RAIL According to Eurostat, in 2019, the length of railway lines in the European Union was over 220,000 km. This extensive network allows travelers to reach even the most remote corners of the continent without the need for a car or a plane.

Europe has been investing heavily in the rail sector for years, with a focus on creating a sustainable and efficient transportation system that connects cities and countries across the continent. The European Commission has set a target of doubling the length of high-speed rail lines by 2030, and increasing rail's share of passenger transport to 50% by 2050.

This has led to significant investment in rail infrastructure, including high-speed lines, modernization of existing lines, and the development of intermodal hubs.

Rail travel is a sustainable and eco-friendly mode of transportation that is becoming increasingly popular in Europe. According to the International Union of Railways, in 2019, rail accounted for 7% of passenger transport in the European Union, up from 6% in 2009. Rail travel is also more energy-efficient than other modes of transportation, with a lower carbon footprint per passenger-kilometer than cars or airplanes.

Family with bikes- sport, holiday, family concept France, Canal du Midi © Family with bikes- sport, holiday, family concept France, Canal du Midi ©

In addition to investment in rail infrastructure, Europe has also been promoting sustainable travel through initiatives such as the Eurail Pass, which offers travelers the ability to explore multiple countries by rail with a single ticket. The pass encourages sustainable travel by making it easy and affordable for travelers to take the train instead of driving or flying.

Many European countries have invested in high-speed rail systems, such as France's TGV and Spain's AVE, which are not only faster than traditional trains but also more energy-efficient.

Trains emit 90% less CO2 than airplanes per passenger-kilometer. For example, a train journey from Paris to Amsterdam emits around 10 times less CO2 per passenger-kilometer than a flight on the same route.

Furthermore, train travel can help to reduce congestion on roads, which can have significant environmental impacts. By encouraging more people to travel by train, Europe's rail network is helping to reduce traffic congestion, air pollution, and noise pollution in cities and urban areas.

Large high-speed rail network in Europe and trains run on electricity, which can be generated from renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, and hydroelectric power.

High-speed trains are more energy-efficient than other modes of transportation:

higher occupancy rate than airplanes, which means that they use less energy per passenger-kilometer. In addition, high-speed trains are designed to be lightweight and aerodynamic, which reduces the amount of energy required to operate them. France banned short domestic flights where a rail alternative of less than 2.5 hours exists (similar moves are being mooted by the likes of Spain, Germany and Norway).

TGV in Vannes railway station in Brittany with low carbon high speed written in French on the locomotive © Richard Villalon TGV in Vannes railway station in Brittany with low carbon high speed written in French on the locomotive © Richard Villalon

Renewed interest in night rail has led to an expansion of night rail connections, demonstrating that this form of travel is gaining appeal and becoming a valid competitor with aviation for short- and medium-distance trips.

Many rail companies are investing in smart technologies, such as predictive maintenance and automatic train control systems, which not only improve the efficiency and reliability of the rail network but also reduce energy consumption and emissions. Examples: 1. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), rail transport in Europe emits 34 grams of CO2 per passenger-kilometer, compared to 285 grams for cars and 254 grams for airplanes. This means that train travel is significantly more sustainable than other modes of transport.

  1. The high-speed train system in France, known as the TGV, emits around 3 grams of CO2 per passenger-kilometer, making it one of the most sustainable modes of transport in the world. In contrast, a flight between Paris and Marseille emits around 87 grams of CO2 per passenger-kilometer.

Wild coast at the Quiberon peninsula in Brittany, France © hardyuno Wild coast at the Quiberon peninsula in Brittany, France © hardyuno

  1. Eurostar, the high-speed train service between the UK and mainland Europe, emits around 10 grams of CO2 per passenger-kilometer, making it one of the most sustainable modes of transport between the UK and Europe. Eurostar has also committed to reducing its carbon footprint by 25% by 2020.

  2. Paris-Rome: 20x lower carbon footprint for the same distance : 5kg CO2e vs 112 by plane and 141 by car (Source: Ademe Datagir).

Sources : International Energy Agency (IEA) report "Tracking Transport 2019” ; SNCF sustainability report "Objectif CO2" ; SBB sustainability report ; Dutch government report "Mobility Agenda: More Sustainable Transport for a Stronger Netherlands" ; Eurostar sustainability report

Digitisation / rail: - Firstly, digital tickets eliminate the need for paper tickets, which reduces the consumption of paper and ink. This, in turn, reduces the carbon footprint of train travel by reducing the environmental impact of ticket production and disposal.

  • Secondly, digital tickets make it easier to manage and plan train travel, which can reduce the number of empty seats on trains. Empty seats represent a waste of resources and energy, as trains consume fuel regardless of the number of passengers. By making it easier to plan and book train travel, digital tickets can help to increase the utilization rate of trains, reducing waste and improving efficiency.

  • Thirdly, digitization can help to reduce the carbon footprint of ticket distribution. With digital tickets, there is no need for physical ticket machines or ticket offices, which reduces the energy and resources required to manufacture, transport, and maintain these facilities.

Energy / Shift from diesel to electrified and hydrogen:

  • Hydrogen is increasingly seen as a key to decarbonisation, as a replacement for diesel in the context of rail.

  • In line with United Nations climate change targets, many countries have committed to eliminating diesel trains by 2050 or even sooner.

  • French train builder Alstom is leading the way with its Coradia iLint hydrogen-electric train, which carried its first passengers in 2018, paving the way for production versions now being built for several European countries.

  • By 2035, around 15 to 20 percent of the regional European market could run on hydrogen," Alexandre Charpentier, rail expert at consultancy Roland Berger, told AFP. Hydrogen trains are particularly attractive on short regional lines where the cost of a transition to electric outstrips the profitability of the route.

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