Clean on track

Up till now there has been little attention in the European transport and environmental policy for the air pollution that is caused by freight transport over rail due to its relative low contribution to the total NOX and PM10-emissions of European transport. Still there are four arguments to be given to take on these emissions.

The first argument is the expected strong increase of the share in the emissions in the coming years. The causes for this are:

  • the EU intention to absorb the expected growth in transport by means of rail transport;
  • the expansion of the EU with the accession countries, that generally have a larger share of non-electrified rail tracks;
  • the liberalisation of the rail transport sector, with many new small transport companies that largely operate diesel locomotives;
  • the rapid increase in the environmental performance of road transport.

The second argument is the fact that at the moment the diesel locomotive, besides the sea vessel, is the only transport mode that is not subject to emission standards.

The third argument is a consequence of the second: rail transport will have to deal with the emissions of diesel locomotives in order to maintain its image as a relatively clean mode of transport. The current NOX and PM10-emissions of transport by means of diesel powered trains are equal to or higher than that of transport by lorry and will fall behind in the coming years.

The fourth argument is cost-effectiveness. Now that other transport modes need to take ever more expensive measures to reduce their emissions, it seems only logical to investigate whether those reductions are far more cost-effective in diesel locomotives.

At the moment EU directive 97/68/EC on the emissions of non-road mobile machinery is under revision. Recently the Environment Council has proposed to include diesel locomotives in this directive. The Dutch ministry of environment supports this development and has asked CE to:

  • undertake an orientative study into the developments in the market for diesel locomotives and their current and future use and environmental performance,
  • to analyse the technical possibilities to reduce the emissions from diesel locomotives, and
  • to show policy options that stimulate the reduction of emissions from diesel locomotives.

On the basis of the findings of this study, the above given arguments and the future developments in European rail transport, we recommend:

  • to introduce phased standards at the EU-level for the emissions of NOX and PM10 of new diesel locomotives;
  • to stimulate the actual use of cleaner locomotives as much as possible by differentiation of the existing user charges for rail infrastructure on the basis of these emission standards.

In addition, the functioning of the market of international rail transport can be improved, and the CO2-emissions reduced when an EU-minimum level for the excise duty on diesel for locomotives is introduced.


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