Can Information Technology Help Rail Play a Greater Role in Preventing Climate Change?

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

operations - capacity, planning - service quality, planning - signage/information, planning - environmental impact, land use - impacts, policy - environment, mode - rail


Service quality, Railroad transportation, Railroad operations, Railroad capacity, Rail transportation, Quality of service, Passenger service quality, Market share, Investments, Investment requirements, Institutional issues, Information technology, Freight and passenger services, Environmental impacts, Environmental effects, Climatic changes, Climate change, Capacity improvement, Capacity constraints


Increasing rail’s passenger and freight transportation market share would reduce energy use and thereby reduce pollution and climate change. Unfortunately, many railroads have capacity constraints and are institutionally skeptical of introducing new products, operating strategies, and technologies that could help them better meet the needs of today’s passenger and freight customers and ultimately help railways increase their market share. One solution to these problems is the clever implementation of new information technology (IT) strategies. IT can help in several ways. First, IT can help maximize the use of existing capacity. Second, IT can be used to help improve service quality by providing improved reliability and information to passengers. Finally, IT can help identify and prioritize the infrastructure investments and institutional changes needed to improve rail service. IT-based applications can help communicate the need for change to public and private decision makers. However, ultimate success will not come by simply adding IT to existing systems; rather, it will come by using IT to reinvent the railroad to provide new products and services oriented toward today’s customers. The paper outlines how IT can be used to improve railway capacity and quality.