Rail infrastructure and green recovery

November 19, 2020

“The coronavirus pandemic is a wake-up call,” RSK Biocensus Managing Director Steph Wray has told Rail Professional in her article “Rail infrastructure and the green recovery”, published on 1 October. “It gives us a chance to recalibrate and reflect that we can change. Indeed, in a very short space of time we made massive shifts in behaviour to protect (mainly) the older generation. Now, we need to act even more determinedly for the benefit of future generations.”

Although the effects of the ‘triple emergency’ of poverty, climate change and environmental degradation are slower than the sudden onset of the coronavirus crisis, we must not ignore them, Steph insists. The ways that we have learned to change our behaviour and adapt to come out of the pandemic (hopefully!) stronger should also apply to adapting to live more sustainably. In some ways, the adjustments we have made to deal with living through the coronavirus pandemic have also helped us on the sustainability front: many people have been working from home and would now choose to meet virtually rather than in person. In addition to the safety element the cost, time and carbon savings of Zoom, Skype or similar are immediately apparent.

However, “true sustainability,” says Steph, “isn’t just about carbon.” The many dimensions of sustainability can be hard to grasp and are impossible to reduce to one number. To achieve real sustainability, rather than just a balance of carbon in and carbon out, we must consider all these elements. “To do that,” Steph explains, “we must look at natural and social capital as well as financial capital.” In terms of rail, this may involve taking into consideration the fossil fuels burned, how the food supplied on trains is sourced and how noise or vibration might affect wildlife, among many other factors. “For rail projects to avoid contributing to environmental degradation, we need to get comfortable with the complexity of the natural environment and think of the many dimensions of ecosystem services.”

Although budgets must be considered, Steph proposes that sustainable projects often generate less wastage of time and materials. A sustainable project also causes less disruption to local communities and ensures better compliance with environmental regulations. It makes sense to become more sustainable in the way we do things and we know that big changes are required to get to this point. Now we must act on those thoughts.

You can read the article in full in the October issue of Rail Professional (pp. 53–55).