Could improving the railways be the right track to saving energy?

The International Energy Agency suggests trains are an underlooked form of energy efficient transportation

High-speed train

Improving the railways could be the right track to saving energy and protecting the environment.

That’s according to a new report from the International Energy Agency, prepared in cooperation with the International Union of Railways (UIC).

The two organisations suggest that although trains are among the most energy efficient ways of transporting both freight and passengers, rail travel is often neglected in public debate.

They argue it is a ‘blind spot’ in the current energy system and deserves more attention from policymakers, as despite transporting around 8% of the world’s passengers and 7% of global freight each year, it uses only 2% of all energy used in the transport sector.

The report suggests shifting more travel away from cars and planes to trains could make a significant difference to global energy consumption and related emissions – the sector is currently responsible for almost a third of final energy demand, nearly two-thirds of oil demand and nearly a quarter of global carbon dioxide emissions.

Although this change would require relatively large amounts of investment, the IEA says it could see emissions from transport peak before 2040.

Dr Fatih Birol, Director of the IEA, said: “The rail sector can provide substantial benefits for the energy sector as well as for the environment.

“By diversifying energy sources and providing more efficient mobility, rail can lower transport energy use and reduce carbon dioxide and local pollutant emissions.”

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