Securing economic viability of railways

Railway operators agree that energy consumption is one of the key environmental factors together with the related emissions/air quality and noise. There are strong incentives on the part of the sector to reduce energy consumption so as to reduce life cycle costs and to maintain and enhance railways’ image as the most environmentally friendly mode of transport. All the stakeholders in the sector are interested to secure economic viability of the railway systems and its competitiveness vis-à-vis other modes.

Energy costs are becoming a principal cost driver for the railway operators due to the rising energy prices in the latest years and it is becoming a question of economic survival to bring these costs down, at least in relative terms. The 3 largest European railway networks are spending up to €1.75 Billion per year on energy.

Freight customers are mostly concerned with the unit prices especially for the "high-volume/low-value" rail transport market whereas passengers using trains today besides the cost of the ticket are increasingly demanding comfort and overall attractiveness of trains. While trying to meet their customers’ expectations railways have to address issues that arise as a consequence of more comfort functions, such as growing energy consumption. It will be very important in the coming years to ensure a sustainable compromise between the need to continue increasing the attractiveness of trains for the passengers on the one hand and the need to prevent an uncontrollable growth of energy consumption on the other hand.

There is a significant unrealised potential for energy savings in European railways that would enable railway operators to boost their cost efficiency in today's competitive environment, and the rail sector as a whole to honour its commitment to sustainable development. While there are some best practices available in Europe in terms of operational and technical measures to improve energy efficiency they certainly do not address the problem in a comprehensive manner seen from a strategic and management point of view. There is a need to examine the question of energy consumption in railways in a more profound and complete way.

Environmental benefits

The potential positive impact of reduced energy consumption in railways is not limited only to the economic advantages for the railway sector itself. The environmental impact of Railenergy project will be undoubtedly positive, contributing to reduced energy use (thus respecting the scarcity of the relevant natural resources) and lower emissions of air pollutants. By tackling the issue of energy efficiency railways therefore respond to the societal concerns about the security of energy supply and climate change.

Railenergy will ultimately bring the following benefits to the European citizens:

Rail has proved extremely effective in improving the quality of life, giving vitality and a new dynamism to the economic geography of the continent (the example of High-Speed Connections is key in this regard). By enhancing the competitiveness of the railway sector and ensuring its long-term viability Railenergy thus contributes to the overall sustainable development of the European community.

Complexity of energy efficiency in railways

The potential for energy efficiency in railways has been largely untapped so far. While some research efforts have been made in this area in a rather patchy way on a national level there has not been up till now and major examination of this potential at the European level. The issue of energy efficiency in railways is so complex and multi-faceted and the range of possible solutions, especially in terms of innovative technological solutions, is so wide that there is a strong case for a more comprehensive and co-ordinated investigation to be carried out in the near future. Such major exercise would necessitate the involvement of various stakeholders, including major system integrators, railway operators, infrastructure managers and academia.

Another important contribution of Railenergy is the fact of drawing attention of various stakeholders to the potential benefits of energy savings in railways and bringing the subject higher on the agenda. Winning support for energy efficiency measures and securing Europe-wide adherence to the developed solutions requires involvement of players on the European level.

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