Sustainable development: the challenge of rail transport

22 April 2021

Mobility is one of the most complex challenges facing modern society. A growing propensity towards movement is in fact contrasted with the search to reduce the impact on environmental and natural resources. The best quality of life and the health of the people and territory remain the primary objectives.

The changes to come in the field of mobility

  • Tripled use of shared mobility and diffusion of micromobility from now to 2030
  • Ageing of the Italian population, with over-65s representing around 30% by 2030
  • An increased concentration of the population in large cities, with an impact on traffic and liveability of the city centres and suburbs
  • New forms of work: the diffusion of smart forms of work with a reduced presence in offices, changing the phenomenon of commuting
  • By 2030, there will be at least 30 million zero emission vehicles on European roads
  • By 2030, some 100 European cities will be climate neutral


How people's habits will change

In the future, continuous changes to how people discover, choose and purchase goods and services online is foreseen, where:

  • 100% of Italians will be connected to mobile devices through high-capacity telecommunication networks (5G and so on);
  • 40% of Italians will use multimodal integration platforms in mobility-as-a-service mode;
  • A growth of online commerce will result in stress on the logistics system and an increase in the number of vehicles for deliveries in cities.


Rail transport as a response to change

In view of such important transformations, we need to adopt a strategy for change in order to relaunch and develop the Italian system. Rail transport in particular can make a major contribution.

By improving the percentage of journeys with high environmental performance, such as rail transport, collective road transport or shared systems, it is possible to make a significant contribution to the reduction of many negative effects, such as polluting emissions and those with an impact on the climate.

Energy efficiency, renewable energies, a redesign of production cycles and modal shifts towards vehicles with low environmental impact are the necessary yardsticks for the transport sector.

In terms of energy and emissions, rail transport is amongst the most energy-efficient and low-emission transport systems. In Europe, in view of a share of traffic of around 13% of goods and 7% of passengers calculated on the volume of all means of transport, it is responsible for 0.4% of CO2 emissions and an energy consumption equal to 2%.

To give another example, the CO2 emissions of a traveller opting for the train average 75% less than they would have by aircraft and 60% less than by car. Moreover, electrified rail transport can also benefit from an electric mix that utilises increasingly renewable sources at a national level (more than 30% in Italy).

For companies in the transport sector, the challenge to be overcome will increasingly be not only to have the economic vehicle take off but to combine the traditional economic and financial objectives of the company with the general principles of sustainable development.