Rail Transport and the Environment


Section 1 - Introduction

Global awareness of environmental issues has developed rapidly since the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) held in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992. With public awareness of environmental issues increasing, more companies are introducing positive environmental activities. The environment has recently become one of the key issues for top management, and voluntary initiatives and responses to environmental issues are becoming more common around the world.

During UNCED, the concept that considers environmental protection and further economic development to be mutually compatible - sustainable development - was discussed. Transport was identified as one of the key areas that needs to be addressed due to its environmental impacts, as well as its importance in economic development. The demand for transport is increasing dramatically alongside economic growth all over the world.

The rail sector has made a significant contribution to economic development and it has played an important role in the transport industry. The sector, however, has reduced its market share gradually and some railway companies are suffering from financial problems. Economic theory, backed by experience in some countries, suggests that structural changes of railway companies e.g. privatisation and/or the separation of operation and infrastructure management, can reverse this trend.

The environmental advantages of rail transport are now being recognised once again with rising public awareness of environmental issues. It is believed that these environmental advantages improve rail's competitiveness with other transport modes. In order to improve still further its position, the rail sector is continuing to make efforts to reduce its environmental impacts, allowing it to enhance its image as 'the environmentally friendly transport mode'.

This report aims to:

  1. describe the state of transport, focusing on the rail sector;
  2. outline the environmental issues, and the current response to them on a regional and global scale;
  3. outline the structure of environmental management systems and the recognised EMS standards, and discuss the activities of environmental management in the rail sector;
  4. identify the environmental impacts of rail transport and discuss the response of the rail sector to these impacts, and
  5. discuss the way towards sustainable mobility.

Rail Database Table of Contents

This report was prepared by Atsushi Ouchi, of East Japan Railways