The transport sector is responsible for around one third of global energy consumption and about a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions. Left unchecked the environmental burden from the transport sector could increase substantially by 2050. Decarbonizing transport has become one of the main strategic responses to reduce carbon emissions that cause climate change.
There are two ways rail can contribute to decarbonize the transport, first by modal shift, as railways can carry approximately 40 times more passengers per square metre and consume only a third of fuel to carry a tonne-km of freight as compared to road transport thereby reducing overall emissions. The second way, that is subject of this report, is to decarbonize the rail itself making it a practically zero emission transport mode.
Currently only one third of rail network in the ESCAP region is electrified -indicating substantial use of diesel for traction and non-traction purposes. And the diesel-powered trains emit at least twice as much CO2 in the atmosphere than electric ones.Railway decarbonize solutions entail (a) electrification of rail infrastructure (b) rolling stock that runs on alternative modes of traction such as hydrogen fuel cells, batteries and biodiesel.
The findings in the study highlight that some countries in the ESCAP region may not be able to afford or economically justify high investments required in electrification of rail infrastructure. Moreover, impact of rail electrification on carbon emissions is closely linked to energy source to generate electricity. Only use of renewable sources of energy can reduce emissions through rail electrification.
Electric battery and hybrid hydrogen fuel cell traction systems are gaining prominence as alternatives to the more costly traditional decarbonisation methods. There are still barriers and challenges to the implementation of these alternatives that may not be entirely addressed by market forces and may need policy interventions.
The railway in ESCAP countries operate distinct traffic volumes over various levels of infrastructure highlighting the challenges of addressing the region with a single solution to decarbonize.
The study recommends clustering of countries according to a set of acceptable geo-political, economic, and operational criteria to develop decarbonization pathways that identify specific solutions and appropriate supporting policies to transform low-carbon railway freight into a reality.
For specific railway, the study provides a maturity assessment matrix as a strategic tool for railways to map their maturity levels and capabilities for railway decarbonization along the four parameters, namely, sources of electric supply, supporting infrastructure, financing availability and management priorities.