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Tuesday, July 16, 2024

The greening impact of modern trains

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“They have long been recognized as one of the most environmentally friendly means of mass transit.”

The Department of Transportation (DOTr) early this month closed a major section of the Philippine National Railways (PNR) line to give way to the construction of the much-awaited North South Commuter Railways (NSCR) project, the 147-kilometer modern train system that will connect Calamba City in the south to the New Clark International Airport in the north.

The project will help solve the traffic crisis in Metro Manila that has recently worsened to unprecedented levels and will speed up the dispersion of economic opportunities to areas outside of the National Capital Region.

There is one more major benefit that the NSCR may bring about that the government may not yet have explained enough. This is the benefit to the environment that the NSCR and the other railway transportation projects promise.

The fact is there is a global consensus that rail-based transportation systems have a positive impact on the environment.

They have long been recognized as one of the “most environmentally friendly means of mass transit.” They offer much lower carbon emissions. They consume energy more efficiently than other transportation modes.

Recent findings show that trains emit from 66 percent to 80 percent less carbon than airplanes and cars. EcoPassenger, an online tool used to measure emissions from cumulative energy consumption, showed that getting on a plane from London to Paris will emit around 122 kilograms of carbon dioxide per passenger, compared with 48 kilograms by car and only 8.3 kilograms by train.

In Australia, the New South Wales government said it has documented that only 2.6 percent of that country’s total greenhouse gas emissions can be traced to rail transportation systems, with passenger trains contributing even less.

In Europe, the European Environment Agency (EEA) is clearly batting for a shift to greater use of trains following the European Union’s (EU) commitment to the European Green Deal. The deal aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 90 percent by 2050.

Rail transportation, interestingly, contributes a mere 0.4 percent and that share is accounted for mostly by EU’s remaining fleet of diesel trains, according to the EEA.

The good news is that the NSCR will not be using diesel trains, but electricity-powered trains.

Recent media reports said Mitsubishi Corp. of Japan won the contract to supply the trains that will be used by the airport express service of the NSCR.

The same reports said Mitsubishi has decided to outsource the design and manufacturing of the rolling stock to Construcciones y Auxiliar de Ferrocariles (CAF), and that the latter is set to build seven EMUs or “electric multiple unit” trains for the said airport express service.

This is a welcome piece of news. EMUs are popular globally because they accelerate faster and operate pollution-free. They are quieter than the antiquated diesel trains that had been plying the PNR route for decades.

Some of the most famous high-speed trains in the world are EMUs. One that we, Filipinos, must be familiar with is Japan’s “Bullet Train” or the “Shinkansen.” The system’s trains are EMUs and run on 25-kilovolt overhead power supply.

We hope that all the other rolling stocks that will be used in the NSCR will also be EMUs.

The ultimate challenge, of course, would be convincing car owners to take the NSCR when it starts operating. Less cars on the road does not only mean less traffic—it also means less greenhouse gas emission.

The NSCR promises to have a significant greening impact. It is a good deal which we hope the public patronizes and optimizes when it starts operations.

Editor’s Notes: Ms. Wella Mayor is a distinguished advocacy communicator with a profound focus on agriculture, environment and telecommunications. With a robust background serving in both governmental and private sectors, she has honed her expertise as a consultant for local and multinational corporations, as well as non-governmental organizations. Through her work, she has contributed significantly in raising awareness about pressing environmental challenges and promoting solutions for their mitigation and adaptation.

Manila Standard’s Biodiversity 101 column is open to contributors who share the advocacies of protecting the environment and promoting sustainable practices that are being pushed by the United Nations. Such contributions are subject to the availability of space and the paper’s editorial policies. The contributions should not exceed 600 words or 4,000 characters.

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