Swedish State Railways and a New Approach to Environmental Thinking

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We were interested to see our customer Swedish State Railways (SJ) recently highlighted on the International Railway Summit website. The article, authored by Sustainability Manager Victoria Burgoyne, focused on the concept of “train boast” as a counterpoint to “flight shame”, a concept which has emerged in relation to the environmental impact of air travel. Of course, environmental concerns have taken a back seat in recent times as the world tackles the COVID-19 pandemic, but there is a link between the two. Because, while we all undoubtedly face huge difficulties, it is also true that the one positive from this situation is a reduction in carbon levels.

To illustrate, many reports suggest air quality is improving as traffic levels reduce, while it is predicted that 2020 will see the largest ever annual fall in CO2 emissions – more than during any previous economic crisis or period of war.

As we look ahead to what we hope will soon be life after COVID-19, perhaps there will be a degree of reevaluation in relation to what is important in our lives and society itself – which could include the wider environment and more.

For example, here in the UK there has rightly been a huge and heartwarming groundswell of support for the NHS and its staff working to support those suffering with this virus. However, we are also seeing recognition for traditionally less well appreciated roles, such as delivery drivers, supermarket staff and a range of other ‘key workers’ – the importance of whom has suddenly become starkly apparent.

Providers of public transport of course fall into this bracket, because while train and bus ridership levels have plummeted, such services remain vital means of connecting key workers with their places of work.

Perhaps we can hope that our present challenges will result in a degree of revision regarding what is important, both locally in our communities, and in terms of the planet itself.

Such a change might result in greater emphasis on more sustainable ways to travel – which leads us back to SJ’s thought provoking article, and the revelation that some 40,000 train journeys from Stockholm to Gothenburg produce the same CO2 emissions as just one flight of the same distance. As a technology supplier to the rail sector, Signature Rail has a critical role to play in the delivery of efficient, sustainable transport. But as a team we are also thinking carefully about social responsibility in terms of our own environmental footprint.

Even before the emergence of COVID-19 we had begun considering ways we could make a difference, and had identified a virtual or live-streamed User Group as a way to continue to inform and support our customers without requiring people to fly to a central location. Clearly in the now Coronavirus-impacted world this kind of activity is very much at the top of our agenda.

Those of us who work in this sector already know that rail is the most enjoyable way to travel. But it is also among the greenest – and with the emergence of ’train boasting’ it seems that people may be catching up to this way of thinking. As the world recovers from COVID-19, we can only hope that one positive to emerge will be greater appreciation for the environment and sustainable forms of transport.

But if there is a trend towards rail travel, it is vital that the passenger experience meets expectations. It has therefore never been more important that train operators are able to plan effectively, react quickly, and overcome any disruption that arises.

Modern technology is a vital enabler here. Pre-emptive planning, decision science and optimisation are critical tools that effectively create order from the chaos of daily operation, enabling planners to focus on planning, and presenting a sense of serenity to the travelling public.

Together with our clients, the Signature Rail team is striving to make rail travel more efficient, reliable and enjoyable – and in doing so we are creating a greener future. In uncertain times that at least is something for which we can all be thankful.

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