Ecosystem Valuation for Railways

Apply ecosystem-services thinking and science to the land management techniques used in the railways, and the habitats and associated services provided on the railway land.

Develop a decision-making tool

Project information

  • Acronym: ECOV4R
  • Ecosystem Valuation for Railways
  • Project Director: Lucie Anderton
  • Project Manager: Pinar Yilmazer
  • Status: Ongoing project


For the first time since the Paris agreement, an important step was taken as a result of United Nations (UN) Climate Conference (COP26) and the Biodiversity Conference, with a commitment to pave the way to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030. With the Glasgow Climate Pact, forged at COP26, more than 130 countries recognise the importance of forests and biodiversity and promised to work collectively to land degradation.

There is a growing understanding of the services that ecosystems provide to society, whether they might be:

  • cultural services such as recreation;
  • regulating services, such as regulation of water flows;
  • provisioning services such as raw materials or food;
  • supporting services such as pollination.

Any degradation of these ecosystem services has a social and economic cost, and there is a maturing science around quantifying and monetising that value. The railways enjoy a variety of ecosystems services from within their boundary as well as outside, all helping to support the safe and efficient running of trains. Additionally, ecosystems on railway land provide value to the wider society and the communities they serve. The main ecosystem services provided by the railway habitats are usually regulatory or cultural, they include:

  • Climate regulation: carbon sequestration from trees, vegetation, and soils but also micro-climatic cooling effects, especially important in urban areas;
  • Water regulation: lineside vegetation and natural ditches providing natural drainage, slowing the flow of surface water and therefore reducing the risk to impacts on the train operations;
  • Erosion prevention: Lineside vegetation providing earthworks stabilisation preventing soil wash out and landslips;
  • Aesthetics: visual screening and landscape enhancement from lineside vegetation providing benefit to lineside neighbours and passengers;
  • Security benefit through boundary reinforcement from hedgerow and boundary trees or other boundary vegetation;
  • Supporting services: habitat for pollinators and important rare species on lineside spaces and production of biomass;
  • Cultural Services and social engagement: recreation and provision of food in case of agricultural, horticultural use or grazing of embankments as well as partnership with local farmers and authorities for eco-friendly solutions.

Through better understanding the services that ecosystems provide, railways can improve the management of their biodiversity assets. Biodiversity assets can be mapped, valued and plans can be put in place to enhance their value and protect their capacity to provide their services. This approach is helpful for improving sustainable land use practices in the transport sector. Precise requirements for efficient land use and its management have been established as outlined in Goal 11 and Goal 15 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The practice of ecosystem services valuation is gaining more interest as a decision-making tool.

Large infrastructure projects can come with high environmental and social costs, including biodiversity loss, deforestation, CO2 emissions and social disruption. UIC together with its members recognise that railways can provide and benefit from a wide variety of services from lineside habitats and therefore aim to design in well-managed, multi-functional lands as part of new infrastructure.

Project description

In this project, UIC Sustainable Land Use sector members will apply ecosystem services thinking and science to the land management techniques used in the railways, and the habitats and associated services provided on the railway land.

Benefits of ECOV4R

  • Improved industry understanding of the application of ecosystems services thinking in railways and infrastructure management and projects;
  • Improved understanding of the value of ecosystems found on railway land and therefore enabling the business case to be made for investment in green infrastructure and nature-based solutions for both, climate protection and adaptation to climate change;
  • A harmonised and comprehensive framework for ecosystem services valuation for effective and efficient land use management for UIC members;
  • Recommendations to improve land use management plans that bring about enhancement in the ecosystem services from vegetation, water, soil and air quality;
  • Enable the valuation of the ecosystem services from railway land before and after infrastructure projects and define the best suitable ecological compensation methods;
  • Exchange information from various case studies for shared learning and capacity building.

The study and developed framework can be used by the global rail sector, but analyses will only be made on selected sites of project participants.

Outcomes of ECOV4R

  • Integrate the ecosystem services approach with the scientific-evidence-based analyses to improve land management of railways;
  • Make the case for investment in green infrastructure and nature-based solutions on the railways for both, climate protection and adaptation to climate change ;
  • Prioritise cost efficient measures for the greatest value.

Project members

UIC contact

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Friday 24 February 2023