Themes: Environment
10. July 2018

Summer holidays: trains ranked best on environmental impact

C02, air pollution, energy efficiency: the train is top of the class in all categories

Environmental ranking: for both freight and passenger transport, the railways beat all other modes of transport by miles. Whether CO2, air pollution, energy efficiency: the train is top of the class in all environmental categories.

Berlin, July 10, 2018: To mark the start of the holiday season, the German Pro-Rail Alliance has presented an environmental impact comparison of planes, cars, buses, trucks and the railways for both long-distance travellers and commuters, and for companies using freight transport. Based on the latest official data for Germany, the ranking compares the different modes of transport in all important environmental categories. The focus of the Pro-Rail Alliance statistics is on greenhouse gas emissions, energy consumption and emissions of NOx. The conclusions: for both long-distance and local and regional passenger transport the railways are clearly ahead of the other transport modes cars, planes, buses and scheduled coach services. The environmental advantage is also clear when it comes to freight transport – rail freight is better on environment impact than both trucks and inland water transport. For its comparison of the environmental impact of different modes of transport, the Pro-Rail Alliance used data provided by the German Environment Agency UBA. The reference value in all categories of emissions is economic performance, measured in passenger-kilometres or tonne-kilometres.

Long-distance transport: plane, coach, car and intercity train in comparison

In the categories greenhouse gases, energy consumption and NOx emissions, flying is by far the most environmentally damaging mode of transport. The car is second placed, while coaches and buses have the least environmental impact for road transport. Germany’s national rail company Deutsche Bahn, which uses a high percentage of green electricity, is however considerably better than coaches and buses on environmental impact and harmful emissions.

Chart: Environmental Ranking – long-distance passenger transport
Greenhouse gas emissions, energy consumption, NOx emissions


Local transport: cars, buses, trams and trains in comparison

For local and regional transport, the comparison of transport modes is slightly tighter than for long-distance travel. The car is once again more environmentally damaging than the train in all categories: on greenhouse gas emissions, CO2 levels from cars are twice as high, and trains are better by a factor of two on energy consumption. On NOx emissions, trains are second placed behind trams and underground trains, which today are already 100 percent electrically driven.

Chart: Environmental Ranking – local and regional passenger transport
Greenhouse gas emissions, energy consumption, NOx emissions


Freight transport: goods trains are top of the climate class

The fact that the German government wants to strengthen rail freight transport and intends to already reduce track access charges for goods trains in 2018 is the result of a climate-policy calculation. In comparison with heavy goods vehicles, freight trains emit 5-times less CO2 and are 5-times more energy efficient. The inland waterways also have less impact on the environment than HGVs. Only on emissions of NOx does water transport perform badly, emitting 11-times more NOx than freight trains and overtaking even road freight transport.

Chart: Environmental Ranking – freight transport
Greenhouse gas emissions, energy consumption, NOx emissions


Electric transport with a high percentage of green electricity

Whereas the transport sector as a whole achieved only a five percent share of renewable energy in 2017, the railway’s green electricity share in the traction current mix was 44 percent, which is already considerably higher than the average 36 percent of renewable energy in Germany’s overall electricity mix. The railways also lead when it comes to the share of electrically powered transport, with 90 percent of economic performance being powered by electricity. This level will continue to climb: the government’s coalition partners are planning to increase the level of network electrification from 60 percent to 70 percent by 2025.

Environmental comparison: politicians should set a framework for transport mode choice

“The environment does not play the biggest role when it comes to planning a vacation,” said Dirk Flege, managing director of the Pro-Rail Alliance on Tuesday in Berlin. “However, every holidaymaker can choose for themselves how much emphasis they want to put on the environmental impact of their vacation.” All the more important therefore is that politicians create the right framework to help in choosing sustainable transport modes. “Out of all sectors of the economy, transport is the only one where greenhouse gas emissions are actually increasing,” said Flege. “The new federal government therefore has a lot to do if it wants to hit its own ambitious climate targets.” The plans for strengthening the environmentally friendly railways set out in the coalition agreement should therefore be realised as quickly as possible. Flege called for the reduction in track access charges for freight trains to be extended to passenger services, for more tempo on introducing a synchronised national train timetable, and for rail lines to be added to the government’s special electrification programme.


Additional information:

Download: all charts in the environmental comparison as PDF  (German)