Rail freight transport as an ecological and efficient alternative

12. 12. 2019

Guest author: Niki Schmölz, author, student und railway-blogger in the RCG-Talk.

The economy is growing, global transport networks are expanding and online commerce has been enjoying a global boom for several years. But climate change is also progressing. However, the need to green the transport sector in this context does not mean that we have to accept regression or a slowdown in the global transport of goods - quite the opposite.

Niki Schmölz is author, student and partner of the tetraversity media GmbH. The young railway specialist has developed his blog into one of the leading media platforms for the future of rail in Austria and Europe. Through his ideas, analyses and comments as well as many exciting interviews, a broad dialogue about the future of rail as a mode of transport has been created. Niki's latest articles can be found at www.eisenbahn.blog

The railway as an ecological alternative

by Niki Schmölz


In times of climate crisis, we need to rethink all areas of society and the economy and realign our systems. In my opinion, it is extremely important that we reduce pollutant emissions and thus ensure an environment worth living in for future generations as well.

Nowhere is change as interesting as in the transport and transportation sector, because we already have strong alternatives here, e.g. through the railways, but still have to push ahead with change.

Political framework conditions are needed here to adapt taxes, subsidies and grants. In Austria, about one third of CO2 emissions are caused by transport. Road freight transport in particular is a major driver here.

Railways can offer a strong alternative in both passenger and freight sectors. Freight transport in particular is much more energy-efficient and environmentally friendly than road transport or air freight. The following examples illustrate this: According to figures from the Energiestiftung.CH, the truck on the Hamburg-Zurich route requires 2.9 times more energy for 100 tonnes of freight than the train. And for 100 tons of freight from Beijing to Zurich, the aircraft needs 22.7 times more energy than the rail transport.

However, railways are not only very economical in terms of energy consumption. CO2 emissions are also lowest for the railways, as the following graph shows.

Greenhouse gas emissions in grams per tonne-kilometre, 2014

truck, barge, freight train

Here, the railways presents itself as very future-proof. It causes comparatively little air pollution and is enormously resource-saving. If railways had 30% share of the modal split in European freight transport, 290 million tonnes of CO2 could be saved per year compared with the current figure of 18%.

Therefore, to achieve the climate targets, it is necessary to get more goods on the railways.