The present policy brief explores challenges and opportunities for sustainable railway transport connectivity in the times of COVID-19 pandemic. The resilience shown by railway transport during the pandemic gives an opportunity to railways of the region to turn this crisis and period of uncertainty into an opportunity by undertaking measures to increase the comparative advantages of railway transport enhancing sustainability of transport networks.
Digitalizing and decarbonizing railways, harmonizing operational requirements and regulatory formalities, integrating with other modes of transport, bundling of freight, and partnering with other stakeholders are key areas of opportunities for railways post pandemic to enhance their competitiveness. Pandemic has given further momentum to digitalization of railway transport even in countries with relatively low level of digital services and has encouraged innovative solutions such as establishment of green lanes for medicine products.
The railways of the region now need to build on these initiatives incorporating them into national railway strategies. The policy brief also notes that over long run the geography of rail freight flows in ESCAP region and beyond, as well as the market in general might undergo substantive changes post-pandemic due to disruptions in supply and value chains and possible relocation of production. Therefore, railways of the region need to revisit national railway plans/ strategies/investments/business models incorporating likely impacts of the pandemic and prepare themselves better to deal with eventualities.
The policy brief ends by underlining the pre-eminent role of ESCAP in supporting member railways in fostering sustainable railway transport connectivity in the region primarily through the Working Group established under the intergovernmental agreement on Trans-Asian Railway network. The Working Group is a pre-eminent regional platform for railways of the region to address challenges and harness opportunities