Rail transport is said to be the most environmentally friendly means of transport. This advantage over other forms of transport should be expanded. In the face of changing demographic, social, and technological basic conditions, the railway needs to remain an important mainstay of mobility on a long-term basis. To achieve this, further efforts to save energy, use renewable energies, and reduce environmental impacts on humans and nature are necessary. Transport services have to constantly adapt to the customers’ requirements and expectations, but also to a changing age structure and settlement pattern. An ongoing innovative development of the railway system also requires that the thus changing world of work adjusts itself to the employees’ needs and provides attractive careers.
Strategies for decarbonization of rail transport are to be compared and the development of new engine technologies is to be launched and supported. Using renewable energies for rail transport under the overhead contact wire is possible without a system changeover; therefore, concepts to decarbonize the mileage are primarily required on unelectrified railway lines. In addition, saving energy by automation of rail transport, digital operational control processes, braking energy recovery as well as new materials and vehicle shapes play an important role. Railway premises themselves provide a potential to generate renewable energies. The potential for that has to be studied and, in consideration of railway operation, the effort to raise said potential has to be determined.
The residents’ acceptance of train noise, construction noise, and vibrations is waning and has led to considerable delays in the expansion projects of railway infrastructure. It is therefore important to develop and test new technologies in order to reduce noise on vehicles and along the railway line. In addition, vibrations from rail transport are to be studied and concepts to reduce them have to be developed.
Even the environmentally friendly rail transport emits substances. Their origin and dispersal has been little studied so far. This should be done in order to assess whether there are possibilities for reduction or elimination. Initial approaches include the development of chemical-free alternative methods for vegetation management on railway tracks or the establishment of rail-specific environmental monitoring.
As others, the railway also interferes with nature during construction, operation, and maintenance, but at the same time provides a habitat for rare and protected species. The state of knowledge on the effects of railway operations and infrastructure on species and habitats is to be improved. In addition, the potential that railway premises have for biodiversity through the provision and networking of habitats is to be assessed. For the compensation measures to protect rare species and habitats, proofs of effectiveness, method standards, and optimization strategies are to be developed in order to legally secure and accelerate planning processes.
The adaptation strategy of the German Federal Government to climate change obliges the respective departments with their responsibility to adjust themselves to the changing climate conditions. This is also necessary for the railway system. As a first step, the vulnerability of the rail network to natural hazards is currently analysed. In another step, appropriate adaptations with regard to construction, operation, and planning are developed and located. This is supported by the definition and upgrade of alternative railway lines, construction measures, strategies for risk management, or Climate Proofing within the environmental impact assessment. In addition, concepts for civil protection and accident prevention have to be adapted and optimized.