Urban Transport and Climate Change: Role of rail-based transport system

Urban Transport and Climate Change: Role of rail-based transport system
Urban Transport and Climate Change: Role of rail-based transport system

Urban Transport: An Introduction

The urban transport system can be defined as a set of transport infrastructures and modes that support urban movements of passengers and freight. In general, it expresses the level of accessibility.

Urban mobility or transport is organised into three broad categories of collective, individual and freight transport. While passenger mobility is the result of individual decisions based on different rationales, freight mobility is decided in tandem between freight owners and transport service providers.

Urban areas are the most complex settings in which passenger and freight mobility is taking place. In a number of cases, passengers and freight movements are complementary, but sometimes they may compete for the use of available land and transport infrastructures:

  • Collective transport (public transit). The purpose of collective transport is to provide public mobility across specific parts of the city. The systems are usually owned and operated by the Agency, and access is open to all as long as the fare is paid; the reason why they are referred to as public transit. The efficiency of public transit systems is based on transporting large numbers of people and achieving economies of scale. It includes modes such as trams, buses, trains, subways and ferries.
  • Individual Transportation. Includes any mode in which mobility is the result of personal choice and means such as automobiles, walking, cycling, or motorcycles. Most people walk to satisfy their basic mobility, but this number varies depending on the city being considered. Some forms of individual mobility may be preferred, while others may be impaired.
  • Freight Transportation. As cities are dominant centres of production and consumption, urban activities are accompanied by large freight movements. These movements are characterised mainly by delivery trucks moving between industries, distribution centres, warehouses and retail activities, and major terminals such as ports, rail yards, distribution centres and airports. In addition, the growth in e-commerce has been associated with an increase in parcel home deliveries. Freight mobility within cities tends to be overlooked but is part of the emerging field of urban logistics.

Rapid urban development has increased passenger and freight mobility in urban areas across much of the globe. Mobility also tends to involve longer distances, but evidence suggests that switching times have remained relatively similar over the last hundred years; on average, approximately 1 to 1.2 hours per day are spent. This means that commuting has gradually shifted to faster modes of transport and, as a result, more distances could be travelled using the same amount of time.

Every form of urban mobility, whether it be walking, car or urban transit, has a level of fitness to meet mobility needs. Various transport technologies and infrastructures have been implemented, resulting in a wide range of urban transport systems worldwide. There have been four general eras of urban development in developed economies, each associated with a different form of urban mobility, with a fifth phase unfolding.

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India Gate, New Delhi, India

Climate Change

Climate change is one of the major challenges facing humanity in the 21st century. Human activity has led to widespread increases in global atmospheric concentrations of ‘greenhouse gases,’ including carbon dioxide ( CO2), methane (CH4 ) and nitrous oxide (N2O). Human activities primarily responsible for these increases include the use of fossil fuels, land-use changes such as deforestation and agriculture. As a result, greenhouse gas emissions are likely to be the main cause of current and future climate change.

The effects of climate change include widespread melting of glaciers and ice caps, rising sea levels and changes in rainfall patterns that are likely to lead to increased drought in some regions. Heatwaves and extremely high temperatures are also likely to become more common. Extreme weather events, including hurricanes and typhoons, may become more intense, although it is not yet clear whether or not the frequency of these events will increase. These trends are expected to continue over the coming decades. Due to the relatively long time span between emission and effects in the atmosphere.

However, if action is taken now, there is still a chance of limiting the worst effects beyond the middle of the century. Effects will vary greatly in different parts of the world. Effects are expected to be stronger in the south, in developing countries whose geography and lack of resources to adapt make them more vulnerable.

Urban Transport and Climate Change

The transport sector plays a key role in society’s social and economic development. Life without access to modern transport services is almost impossible today. Almost every human activity is linked to the transport sector: connecting students to schools and universities, workers to their workplaces, selling consumers or enabling participation in social and leisure activities, to name a few. As fossil fuels mainly power the sector, it is responsible for environmental externalities such as greenhouse gas emissions.

In 2016, the transport sector accounted for 25 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions, an increase of 71 per cent over 1990 levels, with road transport accounting for 75 per cent of transport emissions. Apart from greenhouse gas emissions, it also contributes to traffic congestion, noise pollution and road accidents. Rapid economic growth in the Asia-Pacific region in recent decades has resulted in a corresponding increase in motorisation and, as a result, an increase in the ownership of two-and four-wheel motor vehicles, particularly in urban centres. As a result, cities in the Asia-Pacific region are responsible for 75% of the region’s greenhouse gas emissions, which are set to increase due to rapid urbanisation. In the absence of integrated transport planning and in the context of rising income levels, privately owned two-wheelers and four-wheelers have become the preferred choice for daily transport in many cities in the region. This has put a strain on urban transport infrastructure, which in some cases has shown that it has not been able to keep pace with the increase in private vehicles.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the largest proportion of the greenhouse gas emission basket covered by the Kyoto Protocol. Over the past three decades, transport carbon dioxide emissions have risen faster than all other sectors and are projected to rise faster in the future. From 1990 to 2004, emissions of carbon dioxide from the world’s transport sector increased by 36.5 per cent. Over the same period, emissions from road transport increased by 29 per cent in industrialised countries and by 61 per cent in other countries.

The main sources of transport emissions are currently industrialised countries. However, the proportion of emissions produced in developing countries is increasing rapidly, particularly in countries such as China, India and Indonesia. The transport sector’s global CO2 emissions are projected to increase by 140 per cent from 2000 to 2050, with the largest increase in developing countries. The majority of transport fuel emissions (76 per cent) come from road transport. Light-Duty Vehicles (LDVs)—i.e. four-wheel vehicles, including cars, sports utility vehicles (SUVs), small passenger vans (up to 8 seats) and personal pick-up trucks — are the most important source.

Air travel produces around 12% of transport CO2 emissions and is growing rapidly. Various modes of transport contribute to global warming by more than their direct CO2 emissions, e.g. by upstream CO2 emissions from oil refineries, electricity used by electric trains, and by increasing the climate force of aviation as a result of contrails and other effects.

In developing countries, particularly China, India, Latin America and other Asian countries, a rapid increase in two-wheeled vehicles is predicted. Between 2000 and 2050, two-wheeler fuel consumption is projected to increase by more than eight times, increasing the proportion of road vehicle fuel consumption attributed to two-wheelers from 2% to 3%.

Use of Technology: Ways to reduce emissions from the transport sector

Air quality around the world has deteriorated considerably in the last century and a half. More than 4 million people die every year due to ambient ( outdoor ) air pollution and harmful gases, such as SO2 (Sulphur Di-Oxide) and Carbon Mono-Oxide. Poor air quality has a tangible impact on life around the world. Air pollution is currently on the rise in developing regions, while older countries are struggling to slow down. This concern is more vital than ever before. While air pollution is becoming an urgent issue for modernity, the technology that can help reduce it is moving forward faster.

Here are some areas in which technology — new and old — is coming together to help solve this pressing problem.


Energy-efficient cars have hit mainstream culture in the last few decades. Cars that use less miles per gallon and run on renewable energy alone have become increasingly popular. A more recent development is the Autonomous Car. Autonomous cars are part of a movement led by Google and Uber, among other companies. In addition, some studies have estimated that shifting to autonomous vehicles could improve fuel efficiency by between 15% and 40%.

The integration of self-driving cars would contribute less local pollutants to the air and release less greenhouse gases than traditional cars. This positive change could have radically transformed air pollution.

It will surely be exciting to see how technology continues to shape the automotive industry. Driverless cars will begin to make an impact and we will continue researching, exploring and implementing more environmentally friendly sources of energy for our transport. In addition, one can directly invest in this technology to further the goal of environmentally-conscious automotive technology.

Air Purification

Many technological solutions focus solely on purifying our air and air quality. For example, the creation of “Smog Free Towers” and artificial trees has led to new technology initiatives.

Smog Free Towers

Smog has become increasingly relevant, significant and dangerous in urban environments. In response to this urgent matter, a Dutch design company has developed a “Smog Free Tower,” which sucks in polluted air and emits clean, pure air. The pollution extracted is then turned into jewellery. The first tower, installed in Rotterdam, has cleaned 3.5 million cubic metres of air each day.

Artificial Trees

An artificial tree is another great modern innovation. These “supertrees” consume 200,000 cubic metres of polluted air each day, expelling only pure oxygen in return. This is achieved through a water filtration system’s innovative and creative use. Although they currently cost more than $100,000, the prototype in Peru has shown exciting results. Assuming these results can be replicated, these supertrees will be a lifesaver for cities and people around the world.

Home Air Pollution

Furthermore, the impact of individual actions on air pollution should not be underestimated. Just as Smog Free Towers clean air at a city-wide level, anyone can help clean the air and promote healthier air quality at a more local level.

Air Filters

By regularly replacing air quality filters in one’s home, one can create cleaner air in his home or apartment for all his family to enjoy. Furthermore, installing eco-friendly, washable, and reusable air filters can save time, money, and the environment.

Air Purifiers

Home air purifiers have also grown in popularity in recent years. These machines are designed to remove chemicals and odours and airborne allergens such as dust from the air in our homes or apartment. There are a number of different options that vary in efficacy, price, size and appearance.

In conclusion, today many wonderful technologies build on older ones to improve the relationship of humanity to air pollution. Although the road to better air quality is a long one, innovations through the automotive industry and air purification initiatives should give us renewed hope for human ingenuity in the face of seemingly insurmountable issues.

Other technological advances in public and urban transport such as electric and CNG vehicles, Solar transport vehicles, BRTS (Bus Rapid Transit System), Mono Rail, Metros, Under Ground Railways, HSR (High-Speed Railways) are also adding to the efforts of reducing carbon emissions from urban transport.

Significant developments have also been observed in the use of the smart and intelligent ICT-based transport system (Internet Communication Technologies). The method involves the use of GPS and real-time tracking devices, which have helped reduce congestion and excessive traffic on the road, thereby helping to reduce the level of carbon emissions from vehicles.

Nowadays, extensive media campaigns and advertisements are also being used to make people aware of their role in bringing and reducing carbon emissions.

Rail Based Transport System

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High Speed Rail

Combating emissions is a top priority for nations and businesses. As a result, several countries have introduced targets to achieve net-zero gas emissions by 2050. This is in line with their commitment to global climate action under the Paris Agreement, which sets out a global framework to avoid dangerous climate change by limiting global warming to well below 2°C and pursuing efforts to limit it to 1.5°C.

It must be noted that decarbonising economies is easier said than done. Transport is a particular problem. While most sectors of the Economy have improved their environmental performance, transport emissions are still rising.

Railways are the exception. In Europe, rail emissions have dropped dramatically, falling by more than 40% over the past 25 years. This is despite an 8.5% increase in freight traffic and a 37% increase in passenger journeys. This has been possible due to few contrasting features of railways outlined as under:

First, most rail traffic – 80% of it in Europe – is powered by electricity. Although there is still a long way to go before electricity production is 100% green, rail’s per-kilometre emissions continue to fall. A much can be thanked to global efforts for an ongoing generation mix shift from fossil fuels to renewable in rail-based transport systems.

Second, railways themselves are becoming more efficient. Better trains are one reason. But equally important are innovative command and control systems. These reduce carbon emissions and increase the capacity and attractiveness of rail.

Railways already play a vital role in providing low-carbon transport. But much more traffic will need to shift to rail if net-zero emissions are to be achieved by 2050. In this context, a few questions arise: how can extra passenger and freight traffic be accommodated and how can rail improve its already impressive energy efficiency?

Digital technologies hold the key. Advantages of frugal AI, advanced automation and predictive analytics to deliver measurable performance enhancements can help rail transportation to a significant level bringing reasonable deliverables.

Smart trackside: Conventional signalling is energy-intensive. Replacing it with intelligent LED signals and digital position monitoring can reduce CO2 emissions by as much as 10,000 tonnes over the life of the system.

Traffic Management Systems: A digital Traffic Management System (TMS) keeps trains moving by predicting, preventing and resolving conflicts – boosting capacity and saving energy. The TMS is typically linked to digital signalling, which routes trains automatically. The next step: linking TMS with trains to optimise every journey. This technology adds to the carrying power of railways and delivers tangible results: a capacity increase of 20% can reduce indirect CO2 emissions by 200,000 tonnes per year.

Driver Advisory Systems: These help train drivers to cut power consumption by calculating and displaying the optimal train speed throughout the journey. Driver Advisory Systems also boost punctuality and reduce wear and tear. The beauty of this technology is that it offers a quick win – no integration with signalling is needed. The potential for energy savings is significant: a 15% reduction in train energy consumption can cut CO2 emissions by 20,000 tonnes per year.

Interlocking and train control: These are the bedrock of railway safety. They also unlock new capacity and save energy. Advanced signalling is already widely deployed, such as the European Train Control System (ETCS). The latest version – ETCS Level 3 –shrinks the gap between trains so existing lines can handle more traffic. Rolling out ETCS Level 3 can cut CO2 emissions by 25,000 tonnes over the system’s lifetime.

Intelligent infrastructure monitoring: An intelligent infrastructure monitoring uses an Internet of Things (IoT) platform to monitor trackside assets and detect early signs of trouble. Maintenance teams are alerted automatically and assets repaired before they fail – boosting reliability. Multimodal journey tools are all about making low-carbon journeys easy and pleasurable.

Mobility as a Service (MaaS) holds the key. MaaS provides a single digital platform for transport services, including rail, metro, buses, ride-sharing and more. Route planning, ticketing and payment are all provided via a convenient smartphone app. These are solutions that can help rail transport fight climate change and protect the planet for future generations. It should also be noted that Rail-based transport is the most environment-friendly mass transport system due to the inherent gains it provides in terms of energy efficiency and resource optimisation. Railways are about 12 times more efficient in freight traffic and 3 times more efficient in passenger traffic than road transport. As the Indian economy transitions, mobility will play a key role with economic growth and sustainable development as twin goals. It has been estimated that for the sustainable development of the Indian Economy, the inter-modal share of freight traffic by rail should go up from the current share of 36% to 45% by 2030. Accordingly, Indian Railways is gearing up for massive growth to increase inter-modal share by augmentation of its network and rolling stock fleet and increase in productivity.


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