Berta Barrero

General Director of Operations

Renfe, a key player for sustainable tourism in Spain

Rail is the method of transport for travellers and merchandise with the lowest overall environmental impact. This mode of transport uses the least energy per unit transported, has lower levels of CO2 emissions, contributes the least to local pollution in urban areas and has a lower acoustic impact. In addition, the land occupied by rail infrastructures is in relative terms significantly smaller that the space taken up by roads. However, given the weight of tourism in our country’s economy, the continued modernization of railways is a key factor in the design of sustainable, responsible tourism that continues to present Spain as one of the world’s top destinations, where more than 37 million travellers use our high-speed long-distance and high-speed medium-distance services.

All these environmental advantages, in addition to other social and financial benefits such as lower accident rates and a decisive contribution to reducing urban congestion, make rail the means of transport that generates the least external costs for society

The low greenhouse gas emissions per transported unit are one of the main competitive advantages of Renfe. The railway, due to technological reasons and if it is operated efficiently, is a vital link in any sustainable transport system for travellers or merchandise: urban, metropolitan or intercity; national or international; and preferably multimodal.

In addition to these advantages that are specific to this mode of transport, Renfe has an active policy to continually reduce the limited environmental impact of its activity. This is an integrated action that Renfe calls Energy Sustainability, which affects the process of purchasing energy (energy with high levels of renewable energy), technological innovation (regenerative brakes, reversible substations and driving simulators), training and the generation of commitment among the key stakeholders to the carbon goals (learning and improving efficient driving) and the integration of internal and external stakeholders.

In this respect, the unitary emissions of Renfe’s services (per traveller or per tonne-km transported) are notably lower than those of its competitors, and in some cases even 5 to 10 times lower, when compared to cars or aviation.

In 2014, Renfe’s carbon footprint for each transport unit was reduced by 58% compared to the footprint it recorded in 1990 (46.56 g CO2 /TU), the baseline year of the Kyoto Protocol. Despite the sharp increase in railway traffic over the past few years, there has been a slight net reduction in the total CO2 emissions. In this way, in 2014 Renfe met its CO2 reduction target which had been planned for 2020: less than 20 g CO2 per transport unit, as the carbon footprint was recorded with unitary emission levels of 19.60 g CO2. This rate is six times lower than the emissions limit for the so-called “green” cars which are exempt from registration fees (120 g CO2 /km).

Renfe still has room for improvement.  We have therefore signed a collaboration agreement with Adif (the Administrator of Railway Infrastructures, Ministry of Public Works), so that the supply of energy comes principally from renewable energies.

This information allows Renfe to be a key player in mitigating climate change in the transport sector in Spain and an essential link in any logistic or mobility chain or tourism product that aims to be sustainable.

Additionally, on the occasion of the latest climate summit (December 2015), we have joined the international railway community, which – gathered under the umbrella of the International Union of Railways (UIC) – presented its Railway Climate Responsibility Pledge in Paris. More than 60 companies from around the world endorsed it, showing that a more sustainable transport system is essential to achieve the goal of limiting global warming to below 2 degrees and that, despite being the most efficient mode of transport in terms of emissions, rail is a large-scale mode of transport that also has a responsibility to improve its efficiency.

There are two essential aspects:

  1. Reducing specific energy consumption and CO2 emissions according to the document “UIC Low Carbon Rail Transport Challenge” and its targets for 2030/2050 presented to the United Nations in 2014: 50% reduction in energy consumption by 2030 and 60% by 2050 (relative to a 1990 baseline), and 50% reduction of CO2 emissions by 2030 and 75% by 2050 (relative to a 1990 baseline). The companies undertook to report the performance of the main indicators to the UIC on a regular basis to show the progress made by the rail sector internationally.
  1. Stimulating the modal shift towards rail in national and international markets, working with other essential parts of the transport chain and continuing to publicize the role of sustainable transport as part of the solution to climate change.

Caring for the planet is everyone’s responsibility: companies, governments, institutions and customers. Renfe has been working to reduce its emissions to the lowest possible level in its daily operations for years and we strive to attract more and more customers with our management and modernization efforts that continue to increase the attractiveness of the railway, allowing them to reduce the carbon footprint from their journeys.

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