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Rail is among the most energy efficient modes of transport for freight and passengers, yet is often neglected in public debate.

This is according to a new report by the International Energy Agency (IEA) prepared in cooperation with the International Union of Railways (UIC).

The Future of Rail is the latest in the IEA series shining a light on “blind spots” in the energy system, which are issues that deserve more attention from policymakers. It was released in New Delhi by IEA executive director, Dr Fatih Birol, at an event opened by India’s Minister of Railways, Shri Piyush Goyal.

The transport sector is responsible for almost one-third of final energy demand, nearly two-thirds of oil demand and nearly one-quarter of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from fuel combustion.

Therefore changes in transportation are fundamental to achieving energy transitions globally.

While the rail sector carries 8% of the world’s passengers and 7% of global freight transport, it represents only 2% of total transport energy demand, highlighting its efficiency.

“The rail sector can provide substantial benefits for the energy sector as well as for the environment,” said Dr Fatih Birol. “By diversifying energy sources and providing more efficient mobility, rail can lower transport energy use and reduce carbon dioxide and local pollutant emissions.”

The Future of Rail includes a Base Scenario that projects the evolution of the railways sector to 2050 on the basis of announced policies, regulations and projects.

It also includes a High Rail Scenario to demonstrate the energy and environmental benefits of a more significant shift of passengers and goods to rail transport.

While the High Rail Scenario requires about 60% more investment than in the Base Scenario, global CO2 emissions from transport peak in the late 2030s, air pollution is reduced and oil demand is lowered.

In all countries, including India, the future of the rail sector 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, 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.