Skip to main content

UNECE study highlights potential of rail for sustainable transport systems, but no “one size fits all” approach to railway reform

UNECE study highlights potential of rail for sustainable transport systems, but no “one size fits all” approach to railway reform

Rail can play an important role as part of sustainable transport systems, supporting enhanced connectivity within and between countries for the efficient movement of people and goods.

While the proportion of transport by rail has been growing over recent years across many countries in the UNECE region, including throughout the European Union, a number of challenges must be overcome in order to unlock the full potential of rail transport. While some of these are shared by all countries, including the need to ensure the necessary investment in infrastructure and identify a sustainable model for service operation and the overall competitiveness to facilitate the shifting of more freight and passengers to rail, each country must find solutions for the unique challenges of national rail reform. These are among the key findings of a new study on railway reform in the UNECE region, released today.

By outlining country examples, the study shows that railway reform across the region has taken different forms in terms of institutional structure, market participants and development of the sector. Each of the models adopted have been very successful in some areas and less so in others, resulting in different outcomes even between countries taking similar approaches to reform.

In doing so, the study highlights that there is no standard model for railway reform and no “one size fits all” solution that can be applied across the region. It emphasizes that each country needs to adopt a model consistent with its national environment and requirements whilst ensuring that the sector is in a sound financial position to be able to transition successfully through reform and improve the competitiveness of rail transport.

Given the range of approaches taken to reform and varying degrees of advancement across the region, it is difficult to identify conclusive trends linking rail reform to increases in the proportion of transport of passenger and freight by rail.  The study does, however, highlight examples where this reform has had a direct impact on rail use as seen in the new entry into the high-speed passenger market in Italy, significantly reducing fares and drawing passengers away from other transport modes — mainly aviation. These examples should not be ignored and point to the potential of further benefits to the sector in the long-term in relation to reduced costs, increased competitiveness and increased market share going forward.

The study is part of the ongoing work of UNECE’s Working Party on Rail Transport, which facilitates cooperation between countries to improve rail transport across the region, supporting initiatives including the European Agreement on Main Railway Lines of International Importance, working towards Unified Railway Law, Rail security and Rail productivity. These activities, along with the ongoing work within the Trans-European Railway project, seek to increase the market share of rail, facilitate East-West rail travel and aid member States to achieve the transport related elements of the Sustainable Development Agenda.

The study can be downloaded in English here and will soon be available in French and Russian.
Further information can be found at:

United Nations Economic Commission for Europe

Information Unit

Tel.: +41 (0) 22 917 12 34

Email: [email protected]

Reproduction is permitted provided that the source is acknowledged.