Benchmarking the sustainability reporting of high-speed railways (HSRs): Towards a state-of-the-art benchmarking and reporting framework for HSRs

Labib Azzouz, Anson Jack

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)
238 Downloads (Pure)


High-speed railways (HSR) operators communicate their economic, social, and environmental performance through annual and sustainability reports. There is no one unified sustainability reporting framework that combines HSR issues together under the three pillars of sustainability’s cover. Also, no previous studies have specifically examined sustainability reporting practices of HSR operators.

This paper has two objectives; to select and validate social, economic, and environmental factors that are representative of the sustainable performance of HSRs, and to examine the availability of these factors in HSR operators’ reports. After being selected, all factors are validated through consultation with experts of the International Union of Railways (UIC). Having validated the 26 selected factors, the author searched for evidence of these factors in 15 documents of ten remarkable HSR companies, and a rating scale is created to document the richness of each factor. Results are presented on different levels; sustainability pillars; sustainability factors; HSRs companies; and, type of indicators.

Findings showed that around 34 per cent, 53 per cent and 48 per cent of the selected environmental, social and economic factors respectively are not covered in reporting practices. Some factors such as energy consumption, CO2 emissions, cost, and safety have a good representation in reports; however, reporting on these factors could be remarkably improved. In contrast, biodiversity, land use, and affordability are less popular, with inadequate reporting performance. European HSRs operators show a higher reporting performance compared to other operators. Finally, qualitative indicators are dominant compared to quantitative indicators.

Another key finding is that revealed reporting variations show there is no standard set of factors that HSR companies report on today, and further, that even on the factors where there is a high level of reporting, there are standardization and normalizations issues. This research reveals areas of potential reporting improvements, plus suggesting some related indicators. Also, this study highlights the potential for the development of a common framework for HSR sustainability reporting. This framework could include currently used parameters besides new indicators to express the 26 sustainability factors. Such a framework will facilitate and ease international benchmarking exercises among HSR operators.

Original languageEnglish
Article number119505
JournalJournal of Cleaner Production
Early online date3 Dec 2019
Publication statusPublished - 20 Mar 2020


  • HSR performance
  • Raiway Indicators
  • Sustainability framework
  • communicating sustainability
  • corporate social responsibility
  • sustainability reporting


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