Challenges and goals
With 30,000 km of track, more than 3,000 stations and some 50 industrial facilities, SNCF interacts directly with a wide range of ecosystems.
We’re working hard to understand how our sites affect biodiversity so we can do a better job of preserving it. Key areas include:
- vegetation maintenance that balances efficiency with concern for biodiversity
- fighting invasive species
- preventing collisions with animals
- professional training for our staff
From necessity to asset
Research shows that rail infrastructures act as ecological corridors. Which means that promoting biodiversity isn’t just a necessity—it’s an asset. Our rail sites give us opportunities to work with regional players to preserve the environment.
Biodiversity, safety and performance
For us, the biggest challenge is to balance our rail priorities—on-time performance, safety, secure embankments and more—with preserving biodiversity, integrating rail facilities into the landscape and applying the right practices.
Taking action at every level
In every project, large or small, we work to preserve biodiversity by following a strict sequence: avoid, reduce, offset.
As contract coordinator, we set an example by promoting voluntary initiatives, helping to finance research projects, and forging partnerships with biodiversity stakeholders.
Over time, this concern has filtered through to our property managers, creating a whole new awareness of the importance of biodiversity concerns as we maintain our facilities.
For our 30,000 km network, trackside maintenance demands an industrial-scale approach.
But because we care about the environment, we’re changing our maintenance practices. For example, we now use adaptive management techniques to prevent trees from growing close to SNCF track. In the process, we’re gradually recreating grassland spaces favourable to a wide range of species.
We supplement our broader policies with more targeted efforts, including back-to-work projects that adopt biodiversity-friendly practices. Though they aren’t scalable for the entire network, these solutions play a useful supporting role.
Preserving and restoring ecological continuity
Our water policy goals include restoring ecological continuity around the hydraulic components of our linear infrastructures. In areas where watercourse classification affects rail structures, SNCF Réseau—the Group subsidiary that manages the French rail network—has pledged to upgrade them in ways that preserve or restore ecological continuity.
And since 2016 SNCF Réseau has worked on a major project in the Paris region, partnering with local stakeholders to analyse ecological continuity and rail operations around the French capital.
Maintaining green spaces
In response to France’s ban on the use of pesticides in public spaces, we’ve rethought our approach to green space maintenance.
Gares et Connexions, the SNCF subsidiary that manages our stations, has developed contracts that move existing practices towards a more nuanced strategy, adapting the level of maintenance to the purpose of each green space.
We’re now testing a range of techniques, including:
- ground cover
- weed-control methods
For idled track, we favour eco-grazing and other green maintenance practices.
We’ve also launched a number of eco-friendly projects on our tertiary properties, setting up beehives, creating flower and vegetable gardens, and experimenting with artificial refuge habitats.
Every year, SNCF Réseau lays 450,000 wooden sleepers—an opportunity to preserve biodiversity through responsible wood sourcing.
Although 74% of the sleepers are made of French oak, we use tropical azobé wood for the remaining 26%. Tropical wood is naturally durable, doesn’t need preservatives and is better able to withstand the demands of rail traffic, making it essential for sensitive areas.
Sourcing sustainable tropical wood
In 2017, SNCF Réseau reinvented its purchasing policy for tropical wood. The new policy is grounded in CSR indicators, certified sustainable woods, due diligence, genuine partnerships with foresters and close collaboration with international organizations.
Certification of sustainability (FSC) ensures that our purchases:
- keep resources sustainable
- respect the rights of local populations
- preserve biodiversity
- protect soil and water resources
Working with partners
Our biodiversity policy is backed by partnerships with French environmental groups such as France Nature Environnement (FNE) and the Bird Protection League (LPO-Agir pour la biodiversité).
Meanwhile, SNCF Réseau has signed agreements with France’s National Hunters Federation (FNC) and two French agricultural groups:
- Permanent Assembly of Chambers of Agriculture (APCA)
- National Federation of Farmers' Unions (FNSEA)
Partnering with other organizations is fundamental to our success and makes our environmental work more meaningful. Which is why we also belong to a number of environmentally engaged French business groups, such as:
- EpE (Entreprises pour l’Environnement)
- Orée (Organisation pour le Respect de l’Environnement dans l’Entreprise)
- Comité 21
Our subsidiary SNCF Réseau is a member of the Linear Infrastructure and Biodiversity Club (CILB) and plays a role in national governance through France’s National Biodiversity Committee (CNB) and the Foundation for Research on Biodiversity (FRB).
Delivering on our commitments
In 2018 we joined France’s act4nature business alliance as part of our continuing effort to preserve biodiversity. As a member, we pledged to meet act4nature’s 10 shared commitments and set 15 targets of our own. You can follow our progress towards meeting them at the link below.
In 2021, we renewed our commitments to act4nature—which is now an international alliance.