The railway, the main character of a new safe and innovative sustainable era


The United Nations (UN) warns that climate change is one of the greatest challenges of today’s society. The organization highlights the fact that the time to act is short, as “we have until 2030 to mitigate the numerous environmental consequences that come from 95% of the impact of activities generated by human factors”.

Of this high percentage, only transport represents one third of the final energy and one quarter of the total greenhouse gas emissions, as the European Environment Agency points out. This is in addition to other repercussions such as noise generation, large spaces occupancy or urban sprawl.

Data from international organizations highlight the role of transport in a sustainable development economy. For this reason, they stress the importance of betting on those models of mobility that help reduce the environmental footprint, increase accessibility among society and ensure a better quality of life.

The world is moving towards this new model of sustainable society where the environmental challenge will guide all decisions. The European Union works along these lines, which proposes a green and inclusive transition to help people’s well-being and ensure the future of the planet. This redesign is governed by concepts such as equity and prosperity based on a modern, competitive and highly resource-efficient economy.

One of the most important aspects of this eco transformation focuses on the need to address climate change through a reshaping of the current scheme of passenger and freight transport. On this front, the goal is to scale back the emissions as far as posible to be a climate-neutral economy.

Commitment to new technologies, digitalisation and renewable sources
Europe’s trust in the railway as the future of mobility has been reaffirmed these days with the aid package that the European Commission has presented worth EUR 750 billion. These funds will contribute to the revival of the industry with direct support to aspects such as sustainability and digitalisation. Funding is reaffirmed in the transport strategy contained in the European Green Deal to boost sustainable mobility among all cities and regions of the member countries. Furthermore, an additional 1.5 billion EUR will be reserved for the “Connecting Europe” faciity. This initiative promotes the creation of high-performance transport infrastructures to facilitate cross-border connections. These funds will also promote the deployment of 5G networks and the development of technological advances in strategic areas such as cybersecurity, artificial intelligence or supercomputing, among others.

The heart of change
The path towards an improved mobility will continue and there will be a clear main character: the railway. This mode of transport brings together numerous advantages such as the combination of energy efficiency, safety on board, comfort, speed, frequencies and its reduced greenhouse gas emission. Its multiple benefits and the ability to adapt to the needs of travellers make it the heart of the shift towards a green economy.

Challenges and measures for change

To achieve a more powerful railway transport system, progress must be made in areas such as the intermodality and the integration, which means that all modes are present in a single system.

The modal shift towards railway hegemony entails strategic action at European level. Each member state must also act and legislate in order for the common objectives to become a reality.

First of all, efforts must be made to achieve a greater balance of regional connections across Europe, which requires strengthening the development of secondary regional lines and infrastructures in rural areas. Increasing such networks will help reduce social inequalities and boost local economies.

Other challenges to be faced are those relating to more balanced charging systems, the commitment to digitalisation and efficiency, as well as a pricing and taxation policy in line with the environmental impact of each mode.

Alongside the role of institutions, the sector faces several challenges to increase the trust it already enjoys and improve in aspects such as user satisfaction, travel comfort, accessibility or interconnection with other modes, in addition to advancing further in areas such as mobility and service.

In this transformation all stakeholders have a very important role, both industry and public and private operators. A coordinated and joint action will make the railway a real and affordable sustainable alternative. To this end, it will also be crucial to resolve issues such as funding and legislative development to advance on key issues such as cybersecurity, digitalisation or door-to-door services.
In addition, the process of liberalising passenger transport underway is also an opportunity for change and to boost the development and use of railway infrastructures.