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image European Research News Centre > Transport > Taking the Green Line
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image image image Date published: 28/08/02
  image Taking the Green Line
RTD info 34
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  If there is one field where rail has an obvious advantage it is the environment. So much so that it is hard to conceive of a sustainable transport policy which does not shift the balance in favour of rail. Nevertheless, new research must be envisaged to maintain this competitive edge. This is especially true for noise pollution, one of the railways weak points.
   
     
   

The environmental cost of transport (including congestion costs) is generally estimated to be 10% of GDP, of which road transport makes up 90%. Road transport is moreover responsible for almost 80% of CO2 emissions generated by transport. All of which shows the train to be one of the least polluting modes of transport.

But there is one small reservation. As the European Environment Agency notes: 'the energy efficiency of rail transport has changed little over the past two decades, suggesting that, even in the rail sector, additional energy-saving measures must be envisaged.' The Commission, therefore, is going to consult with the rail industries to determine the best way of reducing air pollution linked to rail transport ( in the same spirit of co-operation as with the automobile industry under the Auto-Oil programme.

Energy savings

The German railways (Deutsche Bahn) have announced a 1% reduction in primary energy consumption for 2000, for electric and diesel traction, as part of an energy-saving programme which runs to 2005. Over the past ten years, there has already been a 19% saving in the freight sector and 15% in regional transport.

In France, progress in traffic and line management and the easing of bottlenecks should help reduce energy consumption by between 6% and 8% by 2020.

Research is also under way to adapt new fuels for the rail sector, including electric traction, gas and even fuel cells. The hydrogen-powered train is not for the immediate future, however. The fuel cells developed to date are in a power range suitable for motor vehicles, buses and perhaps light rail (urban or peri-urban transport). Alstom is working on a project for a fuel cell bus for the RATP, the results of which could be applied to rail by 2007. But, as for all means of transport, the fuel cell poses problems of hydrogen storage, on-board energy management, safety and cost (currently estimated at €2 300 per kW).

Silence on the line

Although environmentally-friendly, trains are nevertheless noisy and quieter models must be developed if, for example, freight traffic is to be increased by operating more night trains. This noise nuisance is mainly caused by the contact of the wheel against the rails. Consequently, some research projects are trying to modify the wheel profile, making it S-shaped rather than flat, to absorb the vibrations. Other avenues are also being explored. The SNCF has achieved a noise reduction of 7dB(A) on a locomotive prototype equipped with composition brake blocks, and a new exhaust system and fairings. The Italian railways have experimented with wheel fairings and absorbent materials on their ETR 500 high-speed tilting train, achieving a 4dB(A) noise reduction. These materials must now be shown to comply with safety standards.

Many European projects, coordinated by the European Rail Research Institute (ERRI), based in the Netherlands, are also looking at the question of noise measurement and sound control by working on the rail as well as the rolling stock. The Silent Freight project, for example, has developed a number of technical solutions (smaller or perforated wheels, sound dampers, fairings) to reduce the noise of freight cars while keeping production costs to an acceptable level. It has enabled new products to be developed which limit noise to 10 dB (a 50% reduction) when combined with the solutions proposed by the Silent Track project, its counterpart in terms of infrastructure.

By studying the noise made by brakes, the Eurosabot project has provided a better understanding of how their action creates irregularities on the rail surface, in particular by heating. But the researchers have not been able to find materials to replace the cast-iron brake blocks while providing the same braking quality.

The Stairrs project is currently trying to provide a synthesis of these various research results to arrive at the most appropriate solutions from an environmental point of view, as well as technical feasibility and costs. The results are expected by the end of the year.


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Valence: three days for sustainable transport

A major conference entitled Surface Transport Technologies for Sustainable Development, organised by the Commission, was held in Valence from 4 to 6 June. It was attended by the major stakeholders in road, rail and sea transport to study prospects for sustainable development in the field of mobility. Respect for the environment, safety and European competitiveness were at the centre of the debates.

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Differences which count

Transporting 1 000 tonnes of goods over one kilometre costs, in terms of pollution, €3.8 by rail compared with €7.85 by road.

A train consumes an average if 8.9 grams of fuel per tonne-kilometre, compared with 31.3 grams by road.

A high-speed train consumes 2.5 litres of fuel for 100 passenger-kilometres, compared with 5.9 litres by a car.

To transport 100 passengers 1 km, a TGV emits 4.2 kg of CO2, compared with 14.1 for a motor vehicle and 17.1 for an aircraft.

A freight train with 30 wagons relieves congestion by taking 60 lorries off the road (and the pollution they cause).

In 1999, the railways emitted 7.7 million tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere (not counting emissions due to electricity production) compared with 743.3 million tonnes from road transport.

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