New UIC Report: “Carbon Footprint of Rail Infrastructure”

The new UIC report, “Carbon Footprint of Rail infrastructure” analyses the main existing reports and methodologies in the field and provides guidelines, recommendations and best practices for the calculation of the carbon content of all phases of rail services including infrastructure construction.

The report firstly makes a qualitative comparison with ten existing previous studies to gauge how each methodology can be compared and used for other purposes, in terms of calculation approaches, boundaries, standardisation, applicability, etc.

Following such in-depth review of the existing literature, the second phase of the study quantitatively calculates the effect of the methodology on the results. Three typical corridors representative of three most relevant types of rail traffic (high speed, suburban and freight) have been selected. The three selected examples come from different geographical countries and contexts, such as a suburban line in the Netherlands, a high-speed corridor in Japan and freight services in Sweden.

For each corridor, the most relevant methodologies have been applied to quantify the carbon footprint of everyone, explaining the different results among the methodologies and analysing the methodology most suitable to be implemented in different cases and scenarios.

After performing the analysis, the IFEU study (Matthias Tuchschmid et al, 2010) appears as the most accurate, transparent and transposable methodology to be used for most corridors, giving accurate and reliable results with a reasonable amount of data needed.

The report “High Speed Rail and Sustainability” and the accompanying background “Carbon Footprint of High Speed Rail Lines” produced by UIC and Systra, which take four case studies of high-speed rail lines (two in Europe and two in Asia) and carries out a transparent, robust assessment of carbon emissions for each route, including the planning, construction (track and rolling stocks) and operation phases is identified as one of the most robust methodologies for double electrified, high-speed lines.

The report “Carbon Footprint of Rail Infrastructure” also calculates the payback time required to compensate the CO2 emissions due to the rail infrastructure construction, thanks to the modal shift from more carbon-intensive competitor modes (road or planes). For all three cases studies, the CO2 emissions payback time (less than 15 years) is much shorter than the average lifetime of the infrastructure.

Building new rail infrastructure saves CO2 after one to three decades depending on traffic as a the main key factor for a quick payback, so accurate traffic estimations must be performed during the planning phase of a new railway infrastructure to know the payback of the construction in terms of carbon footprint, and for other relevant KPIs.

As the main conclusions of the report and to engage further carbon emission mitigation when building new or maintaining railway infrastructure, this report also advises the inclusion of Carbon Arbitration Funds into the procurement of new railways. The Carbon Arbitration Funds would engage the bidders to perform detailed carbon emissions inventories, and more importantly deliver on lowering carbon emissions during the construction phase of the railway infrastructure. Precedents in some European countries show a great potential to mitigate carbon embedded into the infrastructure in the most cost efficient way.

Another relevant conclusion is that including carbon footprint of railway infrastructure in the Eco-Tools information would reward those making an effort to mitigate carbon emissions over the construction, re-construction and re-building of the line by using more carbon efficient procedures. It would create a win-win situation, where the rail sector reinforces its sustainability lead, and where infrastructure and railway operators are further engaged to mitigate CO2 emissions, evaluating possible advantages of investments in railways as a solution to reduce carbon footprint in transport.

To download the report, please click on the following link. In addition, all the main related previous studies are available at:

For further information please contact Gabriel Castañares Hernández, Senior Advisor on Energy and CO2: castanares at

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