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SBB’s commitment to ecological sustainability

Posted: 15 February 2011 | | No comments yet

SBB adopted a comprehensive sustainability strategy in 2010. Nine Group targets drawn from SBB’s corporate strategy in 2009 represent the economic, social and ecological aspects of sustainability. SBB’s aim is to create sustainable added value for its customers, the company, the environment and society.

SBB has agreed clear objectives for its managers in respect of its climate protection and energy saving initiatives, for example, in order to ensure that these initiatives are implemented. SBB has also underlined its commitment to sustainability by expanding its 2010 Annual Report to include a section prepared in compliance with the international sustainability reporting guidelines of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI).

SBB adopted a comprehensive sustainability strategy in 2010. Nine Group targets drawn from SBB’s corporate strategy in 2009 represent the economic, social and ecological aspects of sustainability. SBB’s aim is to create sustainable added value for its customers, the company, the environment and society. SBB has agreed clear objectives for its managers in respect of its climate protection and energy saving initiatives, for example, in order to ensure that these initiatives are implemented. SBB has also underlined its commitment to sustainability by expanding its 2010 Annual Report to include a section prepared in compliance with the international sustainability reporting guidelines of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI).

SBB adopted a comprehensive sustainability strategy in 2010. Nine Group targets drawn from SBB’s corporate strategy in 2009 represent the economic, social and ecological aspects of sustainability. SBB’s aim is to create sustainable added value for its customers, the company, the environment and society.

SBB has agreed clear objectives for its managers in respect of its climate protection and energy saving initiatives, for example, in order to ensure that these initiatives are implemented. SBB has also underlined its commitment to sustainability by expanding its 2010 Annual Report to include a section prepared in compliance with the international sustainability reporting guidelines of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI).

As part of its sustainability management strategy, SBB launched and registered an ISO 14001-certified environmental management system at Group level in 2010. This brings together the systems that already exist in individual business areas (Passenger Division Operating, Hägendorf Railway Technology Centre). SBB intends to implement consistent environmental management in all divisions by 2015 at the latest.

SBB also helps other companies to improve their operational mobility management in a sustainable and environmentally friendly way: in collaboration with partners from the railway industry, the Federal Office of Energy and the Swiss Sustainable Business Network (Öbu), SBB launched the ‘mobitool’ online platform in March 2010. This provides businesses with information on how their transport arrangements measure up in terms of energy consumption, CO2 emissions, costs and timing, as well as providing them with useful tips on sustainable mobility.

The International Union of Railways (UIC) recognised SBB’s commitment to sustainability by presenting it with its Sustainability Award for 2010. The UIC singled out for particular mention the way SBB has integrated sustainability issues into its strategic planning so as to ensure that its business continues to be managed responsibly. SBB believes that receiving the award from the UIC gives it an obligation to press ahead with its sustainability efforts at all levels of the company.

Environmentally friendly transport with SBB

If Switzerland is to develop sustainably, it will have to face up to major challenges, particularly as regards transport. The trend in traffic-related CO2 emissions in Switzerland shows that transport, in particular, is not developing in a sustainable manner. Whereas emissions from fossil heating fuels are approaching the target set by the Kyoto Protocol, emissions from fossil motor fuels are diverging significantly. In 2009, a total of 44% of Swiss CO2 emissions resulted from transport. That is why there is particularly strong pressure to take action in this area.

Each day, SBB carries approximately 900,000 passengers on trains that obtain most of their electricity from hydroelectric power stations. Approximately 70% of the electricity consumed by SBB is generated in this way, with most of it being produced in the company’s own power stations or those of its partners. SBB thus offers its customers environmentally friendly transport that is almost climate-neutral. Even when all the ‘grey’ emissions involved in the construction and operation of fixed installations are taken into account, rail in Switzerland is substantially more efficient than its competitors – road and air.

The energy efficiency of rail is largely determined by capacity utilisation: the more people or goods there are on a train, the more favourable the energy balance sheet. To carry one person for 100km, SBB needs about as much energy (in the form of electricity) as is contained in one litre of petrol. So rail has already equalled the ‘100km on one litre of petrol’ car. What’s more, it has done so using electricity.

On average, travelling by train generates one twentieth of the CO2 produced by road transport, for both passengers and freight. If all Switzerland’s rail traffic were to be carried by road, around 4.3 million additional tonnes of CO2 would be emitted each year. Every passenger or tonne of freight switched from road to rail helps further.

The impact of climate change is now noticeable in Switzerland: extreme phenomena such as the floods of 2005 and the heat wave of 2003 could become commonplace in Switzerland by the middle of the century. Switzerland, and with it SBB, must be prepared to encounter more violent storms, the thawing of the permafrost in the mountains and more frequent landslides, for example. SBB has long been looking for ways to protect its 3,000km network from adverse natural forces. Extensive protective structures on projects such as the Gotthard Base Tunnel mean that trains are able to travel these routes in safety whatever the conditions. These installations are designed to meet future safety requirements, too. SBB is expanding its measurement and information systems in a future-proof way in order to identify both individual severe weather events and longer-term climate-related developments as early as possible. SBB is thus in a position to plan protective measures carefully and act promptly when an incident occurs. The noticeable effects of climate change are having a direct impact on SBB, which is one of the reasons why SBB has made a very active commitment to climate protection, setting itself ambitious targets.

The climate protection programme adopted in October 2009 is a clear sign of this commitment: by 2020, SBB intends to cut its CO2 emissions by 30% compared with 1990. In concrete terms, this means saving 15,000 tonnes of CO2. The biggest impact will come from reducing emissions caused by SBB’s operations, especially heating for its buildings and fuel consumption by its road vehicle fleet and diesel locomotives.

30 green shunting locomotives for SBB Cargo

Thanks to green methods of electricity production – seven out of ten SBB trains now run on hydroelectricity – CO2 emissions from the electrified rail system are very low. However, SBB Cargo still needs diesel locomotives for marshalling and shunting on non-electrified sidings. Since the existing type BM 4/4 shunting locomotives and various six-wheel shunting locomotives no longer meet current requirements in terms of age, cost-effectiveness and performance, SBB Cargo has decided to procure new rolling stock.

In order to meet the company’s energy savings and climate protection targets, SBB Cargo deliberately opted for an innovative solution. It has placed an order with Stadler Winterthur AG for 30 new, four-wheel hybrid locomotives with options on further vehicles. The locomotives have two electric motors and an auxiliary diesel engine for use on nonelectrified sections of track. As well as being environmentally friendly, hybrid locomotives are an economical solution for SBB Cargo owing to the lower cost of purchasing, operating and maintaining them. These locomotives emit less noise and will reduce SBB’s CO2 footprint by 4,300 tonnes per year. They are thus a particularly sustainable investment, since they offer economic as well as ecological benefits and make a significant contribution to achieving the company’s climate protection targets.

SBB’s energy saving initiative

With annual energy consumption of almost 2,300 gigawatt hours (GWh), SBB counts as a major consumer. The forthcoming expansion of the network as part of the national ‘Rail Infrastructure Development Plan’ (ZEB), along with the other additional services planned for the next few years, means that SBB can expect to see its electricity requirements increase. It will therefore have to exploit energy resources efficiently and reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. Furthermore, boosting energy efficiency is an effective means of cutting costs today and preparing for rising energy prices tomorrow. Saving energy is therefore an important aspect of implementing SBB’s sustainability strategy.

In 2008, SBB launched a Group-wide energy saving initiative with the aim of achieving a 10% reduction in its forecast energy consumption by 2015. This is the equivalent of around 230 GWh per year, or the annual electricity consumption of about 60,000 typical Swiss households.

In 2008, the first year of the energy saving initiative, SBB significantly exceeded its target and saved 47 GWh. This is equivalent to the annual power consumption of around 11,800 households. The main factor contributing to this success was that SBB trained all the locomotive drivers in its passenger and freight divisions on energy-saving driving methods back in 2008. In practice, this means that locomotive drivers make full use of the train’s regenerative braking power during normal operations, using its air brakes as little as possible and preferably only at low speeds. The systematic use of regenerative braking, especially at higher speeds, makes it possible to feed back the train’s high kinetic energy into the network in the form of electrical energy. Energy consumers are thus transformed into ‘mini power stations’ capable of outputting up to 6000 kW during braking. Running to schedule and saving energy need not therefore be mutually exclusive. The initiative also includes energy saving measures targeting electricity consumption and heating requirements in SBB buildings and installations such as point heating and signalling equipment. For 2009, energy savings were 62 GWh.

Boosting energy efficiency through technology

Technical improvements to rolling stock are making a further significant contribution to boosting energy efficiency. SBB is taking advantage of its EC fleet modernisation programme to modify all 236 vehicles between 2009 and 2013, a step that will achieve annual savings of around 7 GWh. This is being achieved by improving coach body insulation, modifying the ventilation systems so that they adjust themselves to the number of passengers in the vehicle, and reducing night-time heating in winter.

The ‘Lok 2000’ (Class Re 460 electric locomotive – SBB’s long-distance workhorse) is also helping to save energy: SBB has optimised the propulsion control system of all 119 units by skilfully modifying the software. This has boosted regenerative braking performance and therefore the amount of electricity fed back into the network. This measure is saving SBB around 8 GWh of electricity annually. In addition, SBB is planning to modify the Lok 2000 fleet over the next few years so that oil pumps are switched off systematically when the locomotives are idle.

SBB has also upgraded the software of its InterCity tilting trains (ICN) to increase their energy efficiency. The new control system enables drivers to use regenerative braking more specifically and feed more power back into the network during braking. Applied to all 44 ICN trains, the resultant annual power saving will total about 2.7 GWh. This is equivalent to the annual consumption of around 675 households. A further advantage of the new arrangement is that it is lighter on the mechanical brakes and brake pads and does not produce any unpleasant smells.

As a member of the UIC, SBB has also made an important contribution to the development of standard pan-European energy-efficiency standards for the procurement of rolling stock. The company has played a pioneering role in this respect by applying UIC and UNIFE standard TecRec 100_001 (specification and verification of energy consumption for railway rolling stock), which came into force in March 2010, during the procurement process for renewing its double-deck coaches for regional and long-distance services.

The international railway and railway industry associations aim to use this standard to promote innovative solutions in industry and make trains more energy-efficient.

Energy efficiency and climate protection go hand-in-hand

SBB examined its 130 most energy-intensive buildings in 2008 and agreed specific savings targets with the government: it aims to save 35 GWh in this area by 2015.

SBB has reduced the temperature in certain areas of RailCity Basel, for example, modified the heating control system and substituted water for steam as the heating medium. This is saving around 750 MWh in district heating and some 67 tonnes of CO2 annually. The Yverdon depot has reduced the steam temperature in its circuit by 40 degrees, and in several areas reduced heating to the minimum level required for keep frost at bay. SBB was able to offset the cost of the switchover within a few months by saving 500 MWh of natural gas, as well as avoiding around 100 tonnes of CO2 emissions annually.

Further information regarding the energy saving and climate protection initiative and SBB’s commitment to the environment can be found at www.sbb.ch/umwelt.

About the Author

Birgit Elsener graduated from the Justus-Liebig University Giessen, Germany, with a M.S. in agricultural engineering, followed by postgraduate studies in public relations management at the Swiss Public Relations Institute in Zürich. She has worked for several years as consultant for environmental, mobility and energy affairs in Germany and Switzerland. Since 2003, she has worked for the Swiss Railway Company – the last seven years as Communication Manager for SBB Infrastructure and since summer 2010 as Project Manager for the Climate Protection Programme and sustainable development activities at the SBB Rail Environmental Centre.

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