UIC and the International Energy Agency publish the first common railway handbook on “Energy Consumption and CO2 Emissions of the World Railway Sector”

  • A key publication showing the environmental advantage of rail with sound scientific evidence
  • An important source of energy and CO2 data for understanding environmental issues related to the transport sector

The International Energy Agency (IEA), recognised as the world’s most authoritative source for energy statistics since the seventies, and UIC, representing over 200 railway companies and associations across the world, have published the first railway handbook on “Energy Consumption and CO2 Emissions of the World Railway Sector”.

Tracking the progress of energy use and CO2 emissions is at the core of both institutions and synergies have emerged in order to improve data quality and collection for the rail sector.

The aim of the handbook is to support the overall framework constructed by the International Energy Agency on energy-related transport trends. This publication complements the IEA data with direct railway data, collected and quality-checked yearly by UIC since 2008.

The transport sector is responsible for nearly 23% of energy-based CO2 emissions worldwide, mainly due to road traffic. Total transport CO2 emissions have constantly increased since 1990 and all transport modes – except railways – have increased their GHG emissions from fuel combustion. Railway companies operating worldwide produce less than 1% of the total CO2 emissions caused by the transport sector.

Due to their low-carbon performance, railways are an important means to achieve sustainable mobility. Trains, especially in Europe, rely mostly on electricity, and the electricity markets are already subjected to mechanisms to lower the carbon content of electricity through the EU ETS (European Union Emission Trading Scheme). With electro-mobility being a key objective for many European countries, one of the most cost-effective actions should be to promote railway mobility.

In this handbook you will find the result of the harmonisation of the UIC Energy/CO2 railway database with the IEA world energy balances and CO2 emissions from the fuel combustion database.

This publication aims to be updated regularly in order to provide institutions, associations and decision-makers with robust data as the foundation on which to build the greening of our future transport choices.

You can find the “Railway Handbook 2012 – Energy Consumption and CO2 Emissions” on the UIC website at the following link:


Key facts & figures on railways in the European Union (EU27)

General information:

  • The total length of railway lines in Europe has remained stable since 1990 (around 210,000 km)
  • In 1990, only 30% of railway lines were electrified. In 2009, this percentage reached 53%. Around 80% of rail traffic is performed nowadays with electrified trains
  • Railways improved their energy efficiency from 1990 to 2009: 13% less energy is needed now to move a passenger km and 19% less energy to move a tonne km
  • Electricity used by railways in Europe is produced with an average of 30% from renewable sources. This percentage has significantly increased in the last four years
  • High-speed and intercity trains – as expected – consume more energy per train km, but due to the higher load factor they consume less energy per passenger km
  • European railways have committed to reduce their specific emissions by 30% in 2020, calculated from 1990
  • From 1990 to 2009 European railways reduced their total CO2 emissions by 32%, passenger specific emissions (per passenger km) by 20% and freight specific emissions (per tonne km) by 38%. The freight sector has already reached its 2020 target for specific emissions

Transport Trends and Modal Split

  • Total transport demand grew by 7% between 2000 and 2009
  • The financial and economic crisis substantially decreased transport demand between 2008 and 2009, in particular for the freight sector (-12% from 2008 to 2009)
  • In 10 years (2000-2009), no significant change in modal split for the passenger sector was recorded. For the freight sector there have been small changes towards road freight
  • Railways’ modal share was 6% for passenger and 7% for freight transport activities

Energy Consumption and CO2 Emissions of the Transport Sector

  • The transport sector in 2009 was responsible for about 31% of total CO2 emissions from fuel combustion in Europe
  • In 2009, road was responsible for 71% of total CO2 emissions caused by the transport sector. Navigation was responsible for 14.3% and aviation for 12.3% Railways produced 1.8% of total CO2 emissions caused by the transport sector, corresponding to 0.6% of total CO2 emissions in EU27
  • Total transport CO2 emissions grew by nearly 28% from 1990 to 2009 and by 5% from 2000 to 2009: all transport modes – except railways – have increased their total emissions

For further information please contact Veronica Aneris, UIC Senior Adviser Environment and Energy: aneris at uic.org

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