Priority for rails

Priority for rails

A bird’s-eye view of the Munich freight yard. No other means of transportation carries goods as environmentally friendly as rail.

© BayernLB

Increasing use of cars and trucks endangers climate objectives

CO2 emissions generated by the German transport sector have increased in recent years. In 2017 alone, emissions increased by 3.8 million tonnes to 170.6 tonnes. Therefore, they were at the same level as 1990, which is often used as a reference year for the climate objectives.

The German Federal Environment Agency named the increasing fleet of trucks and cars and the rising number of goods transports on the roads as reasons for the jump. In order to achieve the goal set out in the 2050 Climate Action Plan and reduce CO2 emissions in transport by 40-42% by 2030, an increased use of trains in goods and passenger transport must be discussed.

More goods on the rails

In view of heavy truck through traffic on German highways, road-rail combined transport must be significantly accelerated, according to analyses by experts. Better rail connection to Germany’s major shipping ports must also be pushed ahead, like the years of halting expansion of rail routed towards Southern Europe and Switzerland. Rail connections with Eastern Europe also need rapid expansion due to the increasingly strong involvement of these countries in the German value-added chain.

Moving goods to railways will not only reduce CO2 emissions. At the same time, the further expansion of the German highway network was reduced to three lanes throughout.

More rail-linked long-distance transport

The trains can also contribute to achieving climate objectives in passenger transport. This means that rail transport is even more important in addition to electric mobility and the expansion of the sharing economy in large urban areas. Alongside the expansion of city-centre rail public transport, accelerated expansion of the high-speed train network between urban centres in Germany could also increase the competitiveness of the trains compared to internal flights. When expanding the railway infrastructure, long approval times and legal resistance by residents affected by the expansion play a significant role.

More efficiency and better reliability through digitalisation of railway systems

Digitalising railways systems means that the existing railway network can be used more efficiently and reliably with “anticipatory maintenance”. Points failures will be recognised in good time and the frequency of the trains can be increased. Last but not least, a significant reduction of costs can significantly strengthen the competitiveness of the railways in goods transport.

Reduction of investment backlog in railway networks crucial

In most EU countries, railway systems belong to the public sector. Expansion and maintenance of railway infrastructure are mostly focussed not on need, but on the financial situation. Years of neglecting the existing network through insufficient allocation of funds significantly increases the financial need and is at the detriment of new construction and increased attractiveness of the rail transport system.

European solutions required

The path to sustainable transport policy requires the clear commitment of EU countries to put aside national attitudes in favour of a common European transport policy. In addition, national differences with regard to approving and operating rail vehicles have prevented cross-border rail transport until now. The variety of different technical standards for electricity, braking and safety systems and gauges also remains a problem.

First tracks laid

From mid-2019, it will be possible to offer commercial rail transport services Europe-wide. A harmonised approval process for rail vehicles should also then take effect (Fourth EU Railway Package). A compulsory separation of the train network and transport accelerates competition further. This could lead to more cost-saving potential being realised, through which the competitiveness of the rails could be accelerated.

CO2 emissions more in transport in 2017


A total of tonnes of CO2 emissions were produced by the transport sector in 2017:


CO2 reductions forecasted by the German Climate Action Plan for the transport sector by 2030: