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Rail can help save the planet, but government and the industry need to get it right first

By January 9, 2020December 1st, 2020News & Events

By 2050 the United Nations estimates that there will be 6,7 billion people living in urban areas, some two-thirds of the global population which will be just shy of 10 billion. This massive population growth and rapid urbanisation is strengthening the case for rail.

Aside from freeing up the dead space that would be taken by parked cars for other uses, at 15g of CO2 per passenger kilometre travelled, rail is by far the most environmentally friendly way of travelling longer distances. Air travel comes in at 285 grams of CO2 per passenger kilometre with road following at 158g/km.

European Environment Agency data show that transport already accounts for a quarter of the emission of climate-changing greenhouse gases in Europe, with road transport making up 70 percent of that total. Aviation and maritime transport account for most of the rest.

The environmental impact of not changing the way we travel will be disastrous.

But decarbonising transportation requires structural and behavioural changes: electrifying vehicle fleets, shifting mobility choices from low- to high-efficiency modes, such as rail, and transforming urban planning to curtail sprawl and make walking, biking, and transit use easier. Collectively, individual transportation choices matter.

Young people, especially, are on board with this, following advocacy work by Swedish activist Greta Thunberg and others who have been driving awareness of the looming climate catastrophe and have made flygskam(flight shaming) a reality.

However, operators must improve passenger experience and flexibility, increase convenience and provide better value for money to turn this into passenger journeys. They must also improve linkages with other modes of transport.

When rail operators are better integrated with first and last mile transport operators, it will become easier for customers to get to and from the station. Bike storage, timetabling and integration with other transport modes must also be improved.

This requires innovative and joined up thinking from policy makers, operators, and service providers, including rethinking subsidies.

A major challenge is that, unlike in many other European countries, the UK government asks rail-travelling customers (about half the population) to pay for the real cost of running the rail system. Many other jurisdictions require all taxpayers, including those who don’t use the rail system, to part-fund it.

While this makes rail travel more expensive in the UK than elsewhere, this is a question of government policy and political choices.

It may well be time for this policy to change because of the weight of the evidence that a widely used rail system is a public good, rather than a private benefit.

Other challenges include routing, technology and timetabling.

Government needs to look holistically at all these and decide where to invest and where to incentivise.

A simple outcome would be to increase taxes on polluting modes of transport while discounting cleaner modes, as is happening in London right now.

Broad adoption of Mobility as a Service (Maas) in cities will go a long way towards making the switch to rail feasible. MaaS lets customers decide what they want in terms of time, origin and destination points, comfort levels, and price and then enables providers to seamlessly integrate their offerings to deliver the optimal customer journey.

MaaS combines public and private transportation through a unified payment gateway which creates and manages all elements of the trip. It covers ride sharing, e-hailing, car sharing, scooter sharing, and public transport such as buses and railways.

MaaS faces many challenges before it becomes the norm. These include scale, as it only works if all providers are on board and the travelling public want to use it.

Regulations, policies, flexibility, data sharing and commercial vested interests need to be dealt with.

Despite all these challenges, making Maas work is essential if we are to boost rail as the default travel option. We can’t afford to not get this right.

How CGA can help

Using our established roadmapping techniques to provide you with clarity on what your organisation needs to do and when, we create the disruption and long-term change that will position your brand as the first choice for customers. By providing coaching to the leaders in your organisation so they understand how changes in the way we live, work and move around will impact your business, we help them develop a deliberate plan for change and allow them to understand the role they play in transforming your business for the future.

This will ensure vertical alignment throughout your organisation to deliver the plan for the future, including aligning organisational and employee objectives with the customer experience strategy.

To find out more about how CGA can help you transform your company’s culture to ensure that you build long-term relationships with both customers and employees, visit our website, email us on or call our offices on +44 (0) 1483 209 586.

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