Railway Association of Canada report outlines path forward for rail decarbonization in Canada

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Canada’s railways are setting proactive and ambitious plans to further improve fuel efficiency and decarbonize their operations, according to a report published by the Railway Association of Canada (RAC), which also outlined the path forward for rail decarbonization in the country.

Rail Pathways Initiative – Developing a Rail Decarbonization Roadmap for Canada lays out how Canada’s railways can test emerging low-carbon technologies and transition to those that hold the most promise for the future.

Roughly one quarter of Canada’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions come from the transportation sector. Rail accounts for less than 4% of transportation related GHG emissions. Furthermore, Canada’s freight railways have reduced emissions intensity by 25.1% since 2005.

While rail is already the most fuel-efficient way of transporting goods over land, Canada’s railways are ready to go even further.

The report includes a framework for assessing reduction opportunities in Canada’s rail sector and a standard for informing future investment decisions.

This project was a joint effort by which the RAC and its members worked with Transport Canada, Environment and Climate Change Canada, Natural Resources Canada, the Delphi Group, and Pollution Probe.

“Canada’s railways are a backbone of Canada’s economy and are constantly innovating so they can keep Canada moving forward. Our railways are world-leaders when it comes to safety and sustainability, and this is yet more proof of their commitment to doing more on decarbonization and fuel-efficiency,” said Marc Brazeau, president and CEO, Railway Association of Canada.

Canada’s Minister of Transport, the Honourable Omar Alghabra, added, “Our government is committed to achieving its ambitious climate targets. To do so, it is crucial to reduce pollution across all modes of transportation. The Rail Pathways Initiative showcases the importance of strong partnerships as the Government and the rail industry collaborate and align efforts. This is key to Canada’s goals of achieving net zero emissions by 2050.”

“The Rail Decarbonization Roadmap lays out a pragmatic approach to getting the sector to net zero by 2050, in alignment with the Government of Canada’s decarbonization target,” explained Cara LaRochelle, director of sustainable mobility at The Delphi Group. “The assessment framework that was created as the foundation for this project is designed to be used frequently in the years ahead to determine the leading options for rail decarbonization as technologies and practices evolve and are demonstrated in real-world settings. It will be as useful in 2032 and 2042 as it was in 2022.”

Steve McCauley, senior director at Pollution Probe, concluded, “The Rail Pathways Initiative represents a first-of-its-kind effort globally. This collaborative industry-government initiative has created a national roadmap and framework for assessing the decarbonization potential of leading options for rail. It can serve as a template for other jurisdictions and transportation sectors that are pursuing aggressive decarbonization to address the global climate emergency.”

The RAC represents close to 60 freight and passenger railway companies that transport tens of millions of passengers and approximately CA$320bn worth of goods in Canada each year. RAC advocates on behalf of its members and associate members to ensure that the rail sector remains globally competitive, sustainable and, most importantly, safe.