Emissions from rail transport: what role do railways play in Australia’s emissions?


Railways refer to the network of trains and tracks that transport goods and passengers across land. In Australia, this includes interstate freight services, urban passenger trains, and long-distance passenger services.

Significance of Rail Emissions to Australia's Greenhouse Gas Emissions Profile

Rail emissions constitute a small fraction of Australia's total greenhouse gas emissions. Within the transport sector, rail is considered one of the more efficient forms of transport in terms of emissions per tonne-kilometre for freight, and per passenger-kilometre for transit, compared to road and air transport.

Australia's Rail Emissions Trends Over the Past Decade

Over the past decade, rail emissions in Australia have seen modest fluctuations. Improvements in fuel efficiency and a gradual shift towards more sustainable energy sources for electric trains have helped keep emissions relatively stable despite increases in freight and passenger volumes.

Factors Driving These Changes

Key factors include technological advancements in train efficiency, electrification of train lines, and changes in the volume and type of goods transported by rail. Increased urban rail use has also contributed to changes in emissions profiles.

Government Projections for Rail Emissions

Government projections anticipated stable or slightly increasing rail emissions, based on growth in freight demand and population increases leading to more urban rail use. These projections account for ongoing improvements in efficiency and electrification but also recognize the challenges of expanding rail infrastructure.

Real Emissions Track Record

To date, real rail emissions have closely aligned with projections. The sector has benefited from efficiency gains, though these have been somewhat offset by increased freight and passenger numbers.

How Do Australia’s Rail Emissions Compare with Those of Other Countries?

Australia's rail emissions are relatively low compared to countries with less efficient rail networks or higher reliance on diesel locomotives. Countries with extensively electrified rail networks, powered by renewable energy, tend to have lower emissions from rail transport. Australia's mix of electrified urban networks and diesel-powered freight and long-distance services places it in an intermediate position globally.

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