Climate Change Conference Call: Switch To High Speed Rail

NZ ON GLOBE: Copenhagen conference hall |Aust. Science Media Center

NZ ON GLOBE: Copenhagen conference hall |Aust. Science Media Center

High speed rail and moving freight by rail instead of domestic air and road  have strong lobby advocates at Copenhagen’s climate change conference.

A “Train to Copenhagen”, a one-month and 9,000 kilometer-long train journey from Kyoto to Copenhagen to make the point has arrived.

And a consortium of 11 European cities is arguing that the UK must now join the high speed rail revolution to reduce emissions .

It says that travel by train already produces a much lower carbon footprint than by car or air, and this gap is forecast to widen dramatically over the next 30 years, with a high speed rail network also capable of providing high quality, carbon neutral transport.

It points out that there are 5600 kilometres of high speed railway lines in mainland Europe with a further 3476 under construction and 8497 kilometres planned for the future.  In Britain, despite inventing the world’s first passenger railway, there are only a pathetic 109 kilometres in operation. (While in NZ, we have… OK we won’t go there!)

NZ table awaiting its delegtaion | Aust. Science Media Centre

NZ table awaiting its delegtaion | Aust. Science Media Centre

And the International Union of Railways is telling Copenhagen climate conference delegates that commercial freight transport must make a significant shift to using rail.

It argues that railways are crucial in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and developing sustainable transport systems because they provide the most energy efficient performance both in passenger per km and tones per km.

“Transport energy use and carbon emissions are projected to be about 80 percent higher than current levels by 2030,” said Rajendra K. Pachauri, Chairman of IPCC.

He says that the road sector is responsible for over 80 percent of the sector’s energy consumption. Emissions from the aviation sector are increasing rapidly. Today aviation is the second largest emitter of CO2, accounting for more than 13 percent of the total transportation energy used in Europe — emitting at a higher altitude and thus creating more damage than indicated by the percentage figure.

He argued that railways are crucial in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and developing sustainable transport systems because they provide the most energy efficient performance both in passenger per km and tones per km.

He gave as an example: a journey from Brussels to Copenhagen by plane or car produces over 3.5 times more emissions than by train.

So will the climate change conference make any difference to the commercial transport sector?

In NZ, our new government is a lot friendlier to the road transport and freight lobbies and see them as contributing greatly to the nation’s economic well-being.

But the conference will be putting pressure on the commercial transport sector. It’s already started.

A report from the European Commission’s European Environment Agency says that so far, policies have not succeeded in reducing greenhouse gas emissions from transport , especially as commercial transport has increased.

It says serious action is needed and the EC has already stated that emissions from the transport sector will be subject to binding targets at Member State level including the use of biofuels. It adds somehow freight has to be reduced but it’s not sure how – possibly through higher taxes.

Around 80% of global trade is transported by sea but the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development says in its report  for the conference that these are interesting and challenging times, even besides the climate issue.

International seaborne trade grew by 3.6 per cent in 2008 to a record 8.17 billion tons but, because of the state of the world economy, this growth is lower than the previous year. The last year has seen a massive downturn in demand for international and national transport.

For shipping, exacerbating the situation is the fact that the decline in trade volumes is occurring at the same time as the world merchant fleet has expanded.

A Global Transport Market Intelligent Newsletter points out that there are many implications for the global transport industry if governments do indeed try to suppress demand as the modern global economy has been built on the back of cost-effective international transport which has brought cheap consumer goods to the West whilst delivering relative prosperity to economies in the East.

“Constraining demand and regulating supply will have inevitable implications for the transport industry and the wider global economy. Whether this is a price worth paying is, at this stage, largely a subjective judgement, based on whether or not the forecasts of climate change are to be believed.”

As of course, with half the media’s attention focused on Climategate, that is indeed the hurdle. Urging rail is one battle. Convincing the world there is really is a problem is another. Although new Met. office  expert warnings about the latest global weather data for 2009, even if carried on slightly odd sites, are interesting to say the least and such odd sites are worth monitoring.




  1. Patrick says:

    I don’t know about you but I’m pushing where I can the concept of a high speed train to Whangarei - getting there in 50mins.

    Why Whangarei? Well it has representative geography and challenges that if overcome sucessfully, can be transferred to other parts of Aotearoa.

    Besides, it’s nice to go north from time to time.

  2. Jeremy Harris says:

    The only part of New Zealand that is suitable for high speed rail is the Auckland -> Hamilton -> Tauranga corridor and the Auckland -> Hamilton -> Rotorua corridor and then we should only be looking to upgrade and double track existing track to allow 160 km/hr tilt trains, the freight network needs funds first for repairs, passing loops, upgrades in loading and axle gauge…

  3. Brent C says:

    @Patrick: Would be wicked if all the work put into land purchases for that “holiday Highway” were put into high speed rail in the future, it wouldn’t be such a waste of money. But you would be dreaming to get both!!!

    Maybe pressure from Europe could put pressure on our Govt to invest in the Hamilton service (hopefully)

  4. Climate Change is really scary, now we have super typhoons and a lot of flooding going on some countries..:*:


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