Rail traffic - the environment and health

Within the research area Environment and health, the impact of rail traffic on its environment is handled in the same broad sense as described in the environmental quality objectives decided by the Swedish Riksdag.

Rail transport is responsible for less than 1% of Sweden's total transport sector carbon dioxide emissions (not taking into account emissions caused during construction of the infrastructure). Instead, the impact of rail traffic is limited to the infrastructure's local environment and consists mainly of airborne wear particle and noise emissions. In order to achieve Sweden's environmental goals and at the same time cope with the forecast increasing transport needs of a growing population, society is making efforts to promote the transfer of transport from road to rail.

VTI's research in the field of the environment and health contributes to increased acceptance of this development among citizens. Noise from rail traffic causes disturbance, with effects on rest and relaxation. Exposure to noise can give rise to stress-like symptoms with an impact on general well-being and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Wear in the wheel-rail contact, brakes and the overhead contact line system causes emissions of airborne particles which can reach hazardous concentrations in covered stations and tunnel stations.

VTI combines experimental, metrology and numerical methods to quantify the size, characteristics and root causes of these emissions, on the basis of which appropriate measures can be suggested and followed up. The work is often done in collaboration with colleagues in the research area Traffic Analysis, Transport Economics and Transport Systems.

In economic analyses, the health impact of rail traffic can be expressed in monetary terms, which permits an evaluation of its effects on the national economy. In order to assess the climate impact of the transport system, account must be taken of its entire life cycle, including the construction process, operation and maintenance and decommissioning.

VTI staff have extensive experience in performing this type of life cycle analysis. This research area also examines how rail infrastructure can be adapted to deal with future effects in the form of extreme weather caused by climate change, for example.

Research areas

Our research areas in the field of the environment and health:

  • Life cycle analysis
  • Climate adaptation
  • Noise emissions
  • Air quality and emissions of airborne particles

Key terms: Screeching noise, rolling noise, particle emissions, air quality, emissions, climate adaptation, life cycle analysis.

Last updated: