Sustainable rail transport in the spotlight at Transport Research Arena conference

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The Transport Research Arena (TRA) – the largest European Research and Technology Conference on transport and mobility – has gathered experts from around the world in Lisbon, Portugal, to discuss the foremost challenges on the path to decarbonize transport by 2050, in line with the goals set by the European Green Deal of making Europe the first carbon neutral continent.

On the third day of the event, which is taking place November 14-17, infrastructure was in the spotlight. Building on the concerns expressed on Monday about transport infrastructure not being able to keep up with the technological advancements that can support the sector’s green transition, experts revealed the most difficult obstacles that must be overcome and put forward some solutions.

“We need to accelerate the transfer from road to rail and boat, which we believe is the best short-term solution for reducing CO2 emissions. It is not the final solution, but it is a step in the right direction,” said Pietro D’Arpa, vice-president of supply chain at Procter & Gamble Europe.

Traffic on Europe’s roads and railways is increasing while much of the continent’s transport infrastructure is ageing and facing new climate-related challenges. The Covid-19 pandemic didn’t help.

“Coming out of this pandemic, the way in which transport and urban areas are used, has fundamentally changed. People started working remotely more, so the car has become the most desirable mode of travelling in a post covid world,” explained Alasdair Cain, director of research, development, and technology coordination at the US DoT.

What about energy efficiency? "Despite the increase in energy efficiency, this is not sufficient to cover the huge number of kilometers people are travelling,” explained João Caetano, president of the Portuguese Institute for Mobility and Transport. 

At the same time, transport infrastructure is now facing new challenges and opportunities from energy transition and digitalization. “I don't think digitalization is the fundamental change we need, decarbonization is. If you leave the system as it is and digitalize it, emissions will still grow, so decarbonization is the key,” concluded Caetano.