Covid-19 impact in Transport, an essay from the Railways' system research perspective

This essay analyses the possible impact that COVID-19 will have on the transport sector. It also gives the prospect on how the sector should approach the “new normal” which will follow the current health emergency and be resilient in case of future outbreaks.

The paper identifies several impacts that are already taking place in different instances such as the global consumers’ behaviour. Due to the current lockdown situation interaction between producers and consumers has changed radically, and the supply chain had to adapt to cover necessities of citizens. The effects of the outbreak have been profound in consumption, however a growth in eCommerce and digital services have gained in importance and it is supposed to continue growing.

The pandemic also had effects on the transport sector, to the point that a new paradigm of mobility will be necessary to meet environmental demands. The crisis halted passengers’ mobility and limited air and sea freight capacity significantly. On the contrary, long-distance trans-Eurasian rail lines have been untouched.

The pandemic had positive impacts on the environment as well. However, the trend of low production of GHG emission is expected to reverse course once containment measures are lifted. Transport will have an important role in the predicted rebound effect of GHG emissions; thus, the development of green new mobility is essential.

Analysing the forecast of the transport sector, railways will have distinct advantages over other transport modes both during the acute phase of the pandemic and the “new normal”. On the other hand, underuse of the rail sector can lead to a collapse of the urban transport system. Lastly, this paper introduces the concept of 5 “R” as the necessary steps the rail sector needs to undertake to play a significant role in tomorrow’s mobility. These steps are Resilience, Return, Reimagination, Reform, and Research. In particular, the paper highlights research needs which are considered essential in enhancing rail competitiveness.

In conclusion, this paper reminds that this historic event must be considered as an opportunity to truly establish rail as the backbone of the European sustainable mobility.