Photo credit (banner): JC Milhet / Fret SNCF

How taking a train can help save the planet

Learn more about our efforts to make mobility ever more eco-friendly.

Published on | Updated on

4-minute read

Did you know that choosing rail is good for the environment? When you travel by train, you generate only about 50% of the greenhouse gas footprint from driving alone, and only 1.5% of the footprint from a long-distance flight.

For years, SNCF Group has been committed to preserving our planet—today and tomorrow. We’re working hard in many areas to cut our greenhouse gas emissions, save energy and protect biodiversity.

And our employees are our best advocates. They’re on the front lines every day, innovating and taking the initiative to build a more sustainable future.

Hydrogen-powered TERs

At SNCF, we’re meeting the climate challenge with a commitment to accelerate the energy transition and reach carbon neutrality by 2035.

One of our goals is to convert our diesel-powered fleet to hydrogen, and we’re now working to develop a hydrogen-powered train in partnership with Alstom, a rolling stock manufacturer, and four French regions—Grand-Est and Bourgogne-Franche-Comté in eastern France, and Occitanie and Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes in the south. The first trial runs are slated for 2023, with commercial operation starting in 2025.

How it works

In hydrogen trains, conventional diesel engines are replaced with fuel cells, batteries and hydrogen tanks—a traction system that emits zero greenhouse gases and zero pollutants.

Hydrogen from the tanks mixes with oxygen in the fuel cell to generate electricity, which is then stored in the batteries and used to power the train. And there’s only one waste product: water.

Learn more

Green driving technology

Reducing our environmental impact means controlling our energy consumption through green driving technologies such as our Opti-Conduite app.

Powered by an algorithm on the Sirius tablets used by our train drivers, Opti-Conduite calculates optimum driving speeds in real time, so the train is right on schedule but consumes as little energy as possible.

Ever more sustainable mobility

We’re now deploying the Opti-Conduite green driving app to TGV and OUIGO drivers and will roll it out gradually to our other operations.

By optimizing braking and engine use, the app should reduce energy consumption by 8%—while increasing safety, making rolling stock more reliable and improving on-time performance.

Controlling trackside vegetation

One big challenge for SNCF is maintaining and controlling vegetation on 95,000 hectares of rail property. And doing it without sacrificing on-time performance, the safety of our operations or the safety of employees working trackside.

Our SNCF Réseau subsidiary has responded with an integrated approach to managing vegetation on and around tracks, adapting its practices to protect ecosystems and biodiversity, and tailoring its methods to local conditions. This includes experimenting with techniques such as eco-grazing, laying geotextiles on trackbeds, fighting invasive species, delegating management responsibilities to local communities and selective seeding.

We’re innovating to cut our CO₂ emissions, boost energy efficiency, develop renewable energies, conserve resources, protect ecosystems in every region of France and more.

Mikaël Lemarchand, Director of Social Engagement and the Ecological Transition and Director of Corporate Strategy

Rail motorways

With freight volumes rising steadily, some experts predict an increase of 30% by 2030—a rise that would increase road traffic by 1 million trucks annually.

To meet this environmental challenge, SNCF Fret joined some 15 other European freight companies and associations to form Rail Freight Forward, and in December 2018 its members signed a manifesto calling for a shift from road to rail. Their aim is to increase the modal share of European rail freight from 18% to 30% by 2030.

SNCF Fret is also working within the French rail freight alliance 4F to cut CO2 emissions by 290 million tonnes and increase the modal share of French rail freight from 9% to 18% over a ten-year period.


109,000 fewer trucks per year

Our six rail motorways can carry complete rigs—including tractor, trailer and driver—on trains, taking 109,000 trucks a year off the road, all by themselves.