Global demand for transport is growing fast. Given present trends, passenger and freight activity will more than double by 2050. Such growth is a token of social and economic progress, but it carries with it greater energy demand and increased CO2 emissions and atmospheric pollutants. A greater reliance on rail has the potential to cut that growth. In a world becoming ever more urbanised, rail travel is well matched to urban needs. High-speed rail can serve as an alternative to short-distance air travel, and conventional and freight rail can complement other transport modes to provide efficient mobility.
The transport sector is responsible for more than half of global oil demand and around one-quarter of global CO2 emissions from fuel combustion. Therefore, changes in transportation are fundamental to achieving energy transitions globally. Yet while rail is among the most energy efficient modes of transport for freight and passengers, it is often neglected in public debate.
The future of rail will be determined by how it responds to both rising transport demand and rising pressure from competing transport modes.
Rising incomes and populations in developing and emerging economies, where cities are growing exponentially, are set to lead to strong demand for more efficient, faster and cleaner transportation transport, but the need for speed and flexibility tend to favour car ownership and air travel.
Rising incomes also drive demand growth in freight, where higher incomes, have sharply increased demand for rapid delivery of higher value and lighter goods. The rail sector has important advantages to exploit in competing for business, but this will require additional strategic investments in rail infrastructure, further efforts to improve commercial competitiveness, and technological innovation.