Railways and Environmental Issues

Hiroshi SAEKI
Director of Environment Office,
Railway Bureau, Ministry of Transport

 The year 2000 is upon us. Handing on a pleasant global environment to our children and grandchildren in the 21st century is one of the most important issues that have been given to those of us living at the end of this century. Many warnings have been sounded about problems of increased energy consumption, pollution of air and water quality, plus conditions arising which threaten to cause global climatic changes.

  In advanced countries of the world, a large portion of all energy is used by the transportation sector. For this reason, the issues we are facing for persons related to the transportation industry is that we should wisely select an environmentally sustainable transportation system which consumes less energy. On this point, everyone recognizes that railways are highly superior. However, on the other hand, we can not ignore the importance of keeping the environmental impact of railways to the absolute minimum. Even for railways that excel with respect to the global environment, reduction of noise and vibration are critical technical problems relating to the regional environment.

  Here is Japan in the first half of the 1970's, noise from the Shinkansen bullet train became a public problem. In 1975, Environment Agency issued environmental standards relating to the Shinkansen. However, for conventional trains other than the Shinkansen, due to historical experience and difference in inhabitants' awareness of noise between regions, it was difficult to set a uniform standard. In 1995 guidelines regarding noise that would be applied to new railway lines were provided by Environment Agency.

  Environmental impact assessment in advance of preparing the large-scale social infrastructure of railways, etc. is already being conducted in countries around the world. Here in Japan, environmental impact assessment has been implemented based on a decision by the Cabinet. In 1997, legislation was prepared for an environmental impact assessment, and was enacted as of June 1999. For railways, this law is applied to the Shinkansen and conventional railway lines above a certain scale, and from now on, environmental impact will be evaluated based on this law.

  Regarding environmental problems on a global scale, as mentioned above, railways have superior characteristics in terms of energy consumption, but it now becomes necessary to make efforts to further improve energy efficiency through technological development and improvement of efficiency of transportation systems.

  In recent years, not only energy conservation in the transportation sector and the manufacturing process, but also consideration for the environment in all commercial and industrial activity and rationalization of energy use have been emphasized. This concept has been embodied in the provisions of ISO 14000 series. In the railway field as well, the Railway Technical Research Institute has begun activities such as application for acquiring certification as an assessment agency.

  In this way, grappling with environmental problems is indispensable for the healthy future development of the railway industry. On the other hand, it is also a critical high priority issue that a balance be maintained between environmental measures and other technical issues facing railways including improvement of safety, increased speed and comfort, enhancement of transport capacity, cost reduction, labor and maintenance reduction. In the future, we believe that railway engineers and researchers must be active in an ever wider area.