Global investment in rail not sufficient to reach climate goals

UIC has just released a paper analysing the development of global investment in rail infrastructure, differentiating by region and rail type. Subsequently, current investment in rail is compared with estimates by the International Energy Agency for the investment required to achieve the climate change “Beyond-2-Degree Scenario” (B2DS) of holding the global average temperature increase to well below 2°C and striving for 1.5°C.

The analysis of investments yielded several important insights, such as the following:

  • Globally, almost 1500 rail infrastructure projects worth at least $ 2.1 trillion are planned or under construction (not including about $ 80 billion for current rolling stock procurement projects), amounting to a total of 140’000km.
  • Out of this, over 500 heavy rail projects account for 57,000km of track under construction (or expansion/renewal) 65,000km of track planned and $ 1.2 trillion of announced investments. The overwhelming share (85%) of both current and future developments falls on low and middle-income countries, particularly in Asia (almost 50%).
  • China dominates current track under construction with 37% of all heavy rail, 61% of high-speed, 66% of metro and 21% of light rail track being built there.
  • Cost per km of track under construction varies considerably by region, rail type and project status. Interestingly, heavy rail (excl. high-speed) and light rail projects in planning stage on average budget a lower cost per km than those already under construction (globally -50% and -21%, respectively). But the reverse is true for high-speed (+120%) and metro projects (+42%). This tendency can be observed across all regions, although the exact figures vary strongly.

Despite some impressive developments, particularly of high-speed rail in China, the comparison with the IEA’s “Beyond-2-Degrees-Scenario” indicates that a massive increase in railway infrastructure investment is needed to achieve this ambitious target. While investments in high-speed and metro networks are already going in the right direction, there appears to be a significant lack of investment for regular heavy rail, particularly commuter rail. The investment gap is especially large for low- and mid-income countries with quickly urbanising societies, which would strongly benefit from high-capacity commuter rail systems to ease congestion and other transport related challenges. Early and strategic planning to integrate commuter rail into public transport systems is advisable, to avoid increasing costs as cities and economies develop.

The analysis was conducted in cooperation with International Railway Journal (IRJ), who provided their IRJ Pro database for analysis.

For further information please contact Linus Grob:

grob at

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