I love traveling by train. It's the most guilt-free form of long-distance travel, and also, to my mind, one of the more pleasant, if you have the time. Now it just got even greener and more pleasant, with the advent of the hybrid locomotive:
Union Pacific Railroad put into service one of the nation's first locomotives using environmentally-friendly hybrid technology Tuesday.... The new breed of rail locomotive combines electric and diesel power and runs almost noiselessly.
(Via the worldchangers at Triple Pundit. Check 'em out!)
It's the most guilt-free form of long-distance travel
I'm not sure why that would be so, at least in the United States. Commercial air travel, light and commuter rail, inter- and intracity buses, as well as automobiles, all have lower BTU/passenger-mile numbers than intercity Amtrak.
Plus, I can only imagine that diesel-engined Amtrak locomotives have worse emissions profiles than all the above-mentioned modes. Only air travel could be considered worse in terms of emissions, and probably only because of where the emissions are occurring, not necessarily the content of those emissions.
Most people completely ignore the fact that a train weighs more then nearly any other moving object save an oil tanker or a cruise ship. Some very long trains can weigh more then a city block...
Joseph, I'm surprised by your claim for the efficiency, in Btu/passenger mile, for rail travel. Could you provide a source for that please? (You have an impressive collection of statistical sources, and obviously do your homework.) Is this confined to Amtrak - or would the same figures hold for other systems, such as the TGV in France? I have a bias toward rail travel, and am astonished that it is less efficient than commercial air travel. Say it ain't so, Joe.
Joseph, I'm surprised by your claim for the efficiency, in Btu/passenger mile, for rail travel. Could you provide a source for that please?
Is this confined to Amtrak - or would the same figures hold for other systems, such as the TGV in France?
I'm sure the TGV is far more efficient than Amtrak, and air emissions are essentially nil, since it's mostly running on nuke electricity.
I could do some digging to get some real data, if you like.
Is Amtrak inefficient only because its cars are not full? Other sources seem to indicate that rail is much more environmentally benign even in the U.S.
A car occupied by one person produces on average 2.06 grams/passenger-mile (g/pm) of nitrogen oxides for work trips. A fully occupied transit bus, on the other hand, would produce 1.54 g/pm, while a fully occupied rail transit system would produce only .47 g/pm for the same distance. Similarly, the car occupied by one person would produce 15.06 g/pm of carbon monoxide and 2.09 g/pm of hydrocarbons. The bus would produce 3.05 g/pm and .2 g/pm of the same pollutants, respectively. From an environmental point of view, trains are the best form of transportation: a full passenger train produces only .02 g/pm pf carbon monoxide and .01 g/pm of hydrocarbons
Rob, a fully-occupied GMC Yukon uses less fuel and has lower emissions than a fully-occupied Honda Insight. In addition, it takes up far less space parked or moving than 4 or 5 Honda Insights, which creates greater systemic fuel and material efficiency as well. Oh, and it's cheaper than 4 or 5 Honda Insights, too, and requires 1/4 to 1/5 of the human labor to operate.
Do you consider a GMC Yukon more environmentally-benign than a Honda Insight?
Should be "...uses less fuel and has lower emissions per passenger"...".
Oh, and Rob, the report you're quoting seems to be referring to rail transit, not intercity Amtrak. I made that distinction in my original comment, as you can see.
"Do you consider a GMC Yukon more environmentally-benign than a Honda Insight?"
If you are choosing a method to transport 6 people over a distance then yes a GMC Yukon might be more environmentally-benign than 3 Honda Insights. Which I think is the question we are asking here. If you want to transport groups of people between cities which is more environmentally benign personal automobiles, airlines, buses or trains?
And yes the report I quoted does seem to refer to intercity rail. I read it quickly earlier and thought it was referring to intra-city rail.
If you are choosing a method to transport 6 people over a distance then yes a GMC Yukon might be more environmentally-benign than 3 Honda Insights.
At full capacity (9 people), it simply is more environmentally benign than the equivalent number of Insights (4.5) required to move the same number of people. And, again, it takes up far less space on the road, is less dangerous, and so on.
Which I think is the question we are asking here. If you want to transport groups of people between cities which is more environmentally benign personal automobiles, airlines, buses or trains?
That question can't be asked in a vacuum. Theoretical efficiency of a given machine doesn't really mean anything. It's the system in its context which is what needs to be examined. For example, Japan has a little less than 1/2 of the US population living in a country that is about the size of California, and of that size is 80% uninhabitable (too mountainous). This is a far different context than a country the size and population of the United States. That is why we see similar distribution of transportation modes in Russia, the US, Canada, and Australia -- different cultures, similar geography.
I raised the example of the Yukon versus the Insight, since the standard thinking demonizes SUVs and lauds hybrids. This same thinking says that buses and trains are better than cars and planes. Theoretically, this may be possibly true (and again, intercity rail is primarily powered by essentially unregulated diesel locomotives), but in actual use, the relative efficiencies and emissions are as I originally stated.
If you want to take it from another angle, though, one could claim that shared public transportation (planes, trains, and buses) usually run fixed routes, such that the marginal trip choice adds very little in terms of fuel consumption and extra emissions, such that if one rides one of those modes, one drives down the average BTUs/passenger-mile and emissions/passenger-mile.
Contrast that with private transportation (cars, light trucks, general aviation etc) and instead a marginal trip choice is wholly additive -- ie, the fuel consumption and emissions would not occur if one did not choose to take a trip via one of those modes.
So, from the perspective of the impact of a marginal trip choice and its direct impact on fuel consumption and emissions, the shared modes are more efficient and benign.
But over time, the choices we are making are reflected in how the systems work, and can't necessarily be looked at from the perspective of an individual trip decision.
Joseph, thank you for the links. I'm having trouble interpreting the data. For aviation, there are "Certificated Air Carriers" and "General Aviation." The Btu per passenger miles in 2001 were 3,703 and 10,384, respectively. Btu per passenger mile for Amtrak in 2001 was 4,137. Naturally, I'd like to understand the distinction between "Certificated air carriers" and "General Aviation." I also notice that intercity busses required 932 Btu per passenger mile in 2000 - the clear winner. Transit busses used 4,515 Btu/p-m in 2000, higher than automobiles at 3,611 Btu/p-m but lower than "Light trucks", which include SUV's, at 7,162 Btu/p-m.
The conclusions I draw so far are:
- data may show my prejudices to be wrong (that's often a good thing!)
- efficiency is best measured in energy units/passenger-distance, not vehicle-distance.
- a technology, per se, doesn't automatically lead to a better outcome - technology is embedded in larger social, economic and cultural contexts (a point I've been belaboring lately).
What do you think?
On a completely unrelated note, it occurred to me that railway tracks would be an ideal place to put solar panels or some equivalent. They are mostly unused, untouched and uncovered spaces where people are not supposed to go. Also the price of travel from an inefficient diesel engine (for instance) would probably be closer to that of solar derived power than solar is to residential electricity. What do others think - does it make sense - has someone already maybe thought of it?
Also the price of travel from an inefficient diesel engine (for instance) would probably be closer to that of solar derived power than solar is to residential electricity.
Offhand, I don't think they're even in the same ballpark.
Right now, the price of "industrial solar" is about 4.6 times the price of commercial diesel (including taxes) when each is converted to BTU equivalents.
I'd like to understand the distinction between "Certificated air carriers" and "General Aviation."
The former is commercial air travel - you know, United, Southwest, etc. The latter is pretty much everything else, but in terms of human transportation, is basically private planes.
Your conclusions are on the mark, IMO. One caveat, though, is that the Transportation Energy Data Book repeatedly says to be wary of comparing BTU/passenger-mile across modes, simply because of some of the issues we've discussed. It's also because there is great variability depending on specific application -- for example, transit in Los Angeles is far more fuel efficient than transit in Salt Lake City. (See this chapter for more details.)
This is one more reason why I tend to shy away from discussions about "guilt" and such - there's just too many factors involved to be making those kinds of microjudgments. We discussed this on another thread when we spoke about the material consumption and environmental impact of specific individuals measured against the benefits they create through their work.
It's all very interesting to play with, but I wouldn't be making value judgments with it.
Cheers Joseph! Oh well - maybe someday!
Maybe the Germans would subsidise it!
I've written about rail energy efficiency and it's all on my website
at www.lafn.org/~dave/trans/energy/ See my article about
transportation energy efficiency in the 20th century. In the past,
passenger rail energy efficiency has ranged from a few times worse
that the auto to a few times better.
Regarding the claim that a single decision to use or not to use public
transportation has no effect on energy use since the vehicle will run
anyway. Not necessarily so. Operators track traffic and if vehicles
are crowded, just one more passenger might trigger the decision to add
another vehicle run (flight, train, etc.) resulting in a huge
increment in energy consumption. And a decision not to make a public
transportation trip could trigger the discontinuance of a flight,
train, etc. resulting in a huge saving of energy. It's all
probabilities and expected values, but in general individual decisions
count, even at the "margin".
Regarding the claim that a single decision to use or not to use public transportation has no effect on energy use since the vehicle will run anyway. Not necessarily so. Operators track traffic and if vehicles are crowded, just one more passenger might trigger the decision to add another vehicle run (flight, train, etc.
How often does that happen? Do you have some actual data on it? I've certainly never experienced something like that, and I've ridden plenty of trains, buses, and planes during my life.
Just because it can happen doesn't mean it happens with sufficient frequency to make a difference.