Sustainable Use of Resources in Railways

Project information

  • Sustainable Use of Resources in Railways
  • Project director: Lucie Anderton
  • Project manager: Isabelle De Keyzer
  • Status: completed project

Project description

Global raw material resource use was expected to reach nearly 90 billion ton worldwide in 2017 (more than three times the amount used in 1970) and it may more than double from 2015 to 2050.

Strong growth in the extraction of raw material resources continues to support the global economy, and also adds to overall environmental pressures and impacts across the globe.

Growing raw material use is driven by expanding populations, consumption trends (shift of demand from renewable to non-renewable resources, towards new technologies, urban growth and industrialism) occurring mainly in developed economies but also with the transformation of developing economies. This creates new waste flows, thereby increasing emissions and pollution.

Therefore, sustainable use of natural resources is a key issue affecting all sectors worldwide with the following (often combined) impacts:

  • Unlimited use of limited resources leads to shortages (water, metal, oil, etc.)
  • Pollution of resources makes them unusable (water)
  • Pollution or waste generated due to the transformation of these resources

Even though knowledge of mineral stocks remains limited to the superficial part of the earth’s crust, it is established that:

  • new deposits will be harder to find, will require more investment, more energy for the same weight of metal produced.
  • exponential growth in demand may soon outpace the growth capacity of extraction. As a result, shortages of certain minerals may occur in the near future (at a 10-year horizon in some cases). Strategic metals such as copper, indium, gallium, but also neodymium and dysprosium, used in high-tech industries, could begin to fail by 2025.

For iron, the 4th most abundant and the most basic metal, it is estimated that 79 years of global reserves remain (at the current rate of exploitation). The current world iron production is 2 million tons per year.

Project objectives

The REUSE project sought to provide members with an inventory of practices related to sustainable use of resources and circular economy, in order to help them:

  • Anticipate future shortages and price increases that could be very costly for railway companies, or even be extremely disruptive to their business model;
  • Reduce the environmental impact of railway industrial activities, by reducing waste and pollution.

Project members

Project content contributors


ZAG - Slovenian National Building and Civil Engineering Institute

Project achievements and deliverables

The 2-year project included a series of collaborative knowledge sharing meetings (Working Group) and research on circularity practices in railways (desktop, online survey and interviews). The final deliverables are an interactive webinar (15 April 2021) and a Final Report.

Both final deliverables of the project were produced with the support of researchers from ZAG, the Slovenian National Building and Civil Engineering Institute who were commissioned to help conduct the workshop and draft the report.

The webinar on circular economy practices in railways held on 15 April 2021 included presentation and discussion of the findings of the REUSE survey. The event gathered some 80 representatives (project partners, UIC members’ experts in circular economy, Sustainability directors, external stakeholders) from 19 railway industry stakeholders based in 35 different countries around the world. Small working group discussions provided an additional source of information used to confirm and expand upon findings to complete the final report.

REUSE Project Final Report: Circular Practices in the Railways and Ways Forward
This new research report is an easy reference guide for UIC members looking to better understand circular economy concepts and strategies. This best practice guide shares cost saving and innovative applications of the circular economy principles in real, tried and tested case studies in Europe’s railway. The report also highlights lessons and good practice to be found from other sectors and transport modes

Circular Practices in the Railways and Ways Forward

REUSE Project Final Report

- PDF - 1.6 Mb


UIC contact

For any further information please contact: Isabelle De Keyzer

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Thursday 26 August 2021