Warding off climate change
A fuel-efficient mode of transport with modest greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions
Rail transport has by far the best track record with regard to greenhouse gas emissions. It uses very little fossil fuels and trains are electrically propelled on more than 15,000 km of track in France. Rail transport is the motor-driven mode that is best placed to rise to the climate change challenge. Its hydrocarbon consumption is far lower than that of planes or road vehicles. It produces only small volumes of greenhouse gases (GHG), one of the main causes of the temperature hikes increasingly common today. The figures speak for themselves: moving one person on a high-speed train produces 10 times less GHG than the equivalent journey by road and 20 to 25 less than by plane! If only for this reason, encouraging a modal shift from road and air to rail is an effective way of combatting climate change at domestic transport level.
Shrinking rail’s carbon footprint
To identify the main sources of GHG emissions and take mitigating action, SNCF Réseau performs carbon audits on its railway infrastructure worksites. These audits particularly include measurement of the CO2 emissions from the raw materials (concrete, steel, copper, etc.) employed and the power consumption involved in operations on these sites. As part of a process of continuous enhancement, SNCF Réseau is taking specific action to shrink the carbon footprint of its engineering operations.
Reducing resource consumption: SNCF Réseau is looking into ways of building ecodesign principles into its projects, and making increasing use of innovative solutions that are less resource-intensive and more efficient as regards CO2 emissions (cf. circular economy). It is also keen to encourage re-use or recycling of its basic infrastructure components (rails, ballast, overhead lines, etc.) as part of its circular economy approach.
Producing less CO2: SNCF Réseau has a huge fleet of diesel-powered infrastructure works vehicles. To drive down the CO2 emissions of this fleet, it has decided to opt for more environmentally-friendly alternatives and is currently procuring a number of more modern hybrid or 100% electric vehicles.
Dealing with the consequences of climate change
That our climates are changing is a contention borne out by the effects already apparent on the French rail network:
- rain and snow can cause damage to earthworks and structures
- storms can cause power outages and paralyse the signalling system
- winds and gales can bring down overhead power lines and superstructures
- floods and humidity can undermine embankments, foundations, dikes and electrical equipment
- extremely high temperatures can lead to rail expansion or even to power supply outages
- droughts can affect the foundations of lines, bridge and tunnel structures
In the more or less long term, climate change is likely to have a major impact on the network and its infrastructure with the obvious knock-on effects on operations. Design standards and maintenance procedures are therefore key parameters.
Under these circumstances, SNCF Réseau is working on innovative solutions to make its infrastructure less vulnerable to climate change and adapt to the new environmental constraints:
- inspection cycles: to contain the effects of weather-related wear and tear, specific inspections are conducted during engineering work on the track
- hot weather inspections: during the warmer periods of the year, track is under close supervision to hunt out even the slightest track laying or maintenance defects and take remedial action.
- bad weather inspections: to prevent storm damage, maintenance operatives keep close watch on specific engineering structures to spot any eventual problems at the earliest possible stage.
- a thesis on “From scientific knowledge of climate change to economic analysis as a basis for decisions on infrastructure adaptations” co-funded by SNCF, SNCF Réseau, ADEME and I4CE (Institute for Climate Economics) and produced by Vivian DEPOUES, a post-graduate student due to defend his thesis by the end of the year
- two studies carried out in conjunction with Carbone 4, one on “Strategic weather/climate indicators” and the other on “Analysis of the risks linked with climate change for Greater Paris services (Transilien)”
- an SNCF Réseau study produced by the Industrial and Engineering Division on “Adapting to climate change: challenges and possible solutions in the different infrastructure sectors”.
On the basis of this initial input, SNCF is now considering a new, more dynamic approach to climate change with the aim of drawing up the main lines of a route map for the changes to be made, change management and governance. SNCF Réseau has also set up a working party on the issue of adapting to climate change, which has been tasked with producing a long-term infrastructure action plan.