Planes trains and automobiles

Turns out that trains aren\’t all that non-polluting after all.

Defra also recalculated its figures for rail travel. It concluded that the average figure for \”national rail\” travel was 60.2 gCO2/pkm.

Coaches are much better.

Defra\’s new figure for coaches is 29.0 gCO2/pkm – twice as efficient as going by train and almost six times as efficient as flying.

But, here\’s the kicker. VW Polo diesel. 119 g /km. 4 people in it. 30 g/pkm.

So, we definitely don\’t want to be taking the train then and as a car goes where you actually want to go and a coach does not then cars all the way it is then.

There are good arguments for train systems in some places (London commuting for example) but it doesn\’t look like there\’s much of a carbon emissions one for trains elsewhere.

16 thoughts on “Planes trains and automobiles”

  1. It gets worse. Cars drivers pay for their carbon (and then some) thanks to fuel duty acting as a Pigou Tax. Air Passenger Duty acts as a very imperfect equivalent for air travel at about the correct rate. Trains however don’t pay fuel duty and are subsidised.

  2. The difference is:

    1) people of all ages and income distributions will take the train for medium-to-long distance journeys.

    2) people of all ages and income distributions will take the plane for medium-to-long distance journeys.

    3) people of all ages and income distributions will take a large, comfortable car for medium-to-long distance journeys.


    4) only the very poor will take a coach for medium-to-long distance journeys

    5) only students doing it for a dare will take a medium-to-long distance journey with four adults in a Polo.

    So *out of the options that aren’t insane*, the train is the most carbon-efficient.

    Tim adds: Pah! I refute you thus!

    I was not a student when I drove three others from Bath to the Ukraine in a DAF 66.

    I may have been insane though….

  3. Also note that high-speed but all-electric Eurostar works out 17g/pkm – in other words, the reason the average figure for rail is so high in the UK is that we have so much diesel haulage. An electrified railway would win. And thankfully, there are big electrification programmes planned which will sort this.

    As Luis hints, mains electric coaches are a bigger logistical challenge (the power wasted in charging and draining batteries is vastly higher than supplying high-voltage electricity direct to the point of use, so even if you magic up sufficiently powerful batteries that still doesn’t work)

  4. Finally: if you’re looking at *comparable* data, the DEFRA document where the rail estimate comes from pegs “small diesel car” at 151 g/km (because it’s based on real-world modelling not on the unreliable ‘cycles’ approach used by the VCA).

    So you need to get five people in your Polo to match the coach, or eight to match an electric train. Good luck with that…

  5. Luckily the UK economy is contracting, thus reducing carbon emissions and losses due to traffic congestion.

  6. If you decide you don’t want to travel anywhere today, your car won’t either. It will sit there passively on the drive. It will not go joyriding on it’s own.

    But the bus will keep on trundling along, spewing out noxious fumes, slowing down all the other traffic ( and therefore increasing their emissions too) with only the driver on board. I see empty double deckers going to and fro every hour. They only need double decker capacity for the rush hours, but they don’t substitute a smaller niftier minibus for the quiet periods.

  7. Those people advocating use of trains and coaches seem to be assuming that those forms of transport go from where I am to where I want to be at the time that I want to travel. In the majority of instances, this is not the case.

    Also, what Monty said about empty buses.

  8. “Those people advocating use of trains and coaches seem to be assuming that those forms of transport go from where I am to where I want to be at the time that I want to travel.”

    And that’s why, no matter how much the watermelons cry, we will never give up the car…

  9. @10, yes, that’s why the CO2 metrics in the DEFRA report are based on real-life occupancy rates, not on theoretical 100% capacity. If all trains ran at 100% capacity, the UK rail figure would be somewhere around 20g/pkm and the Eurostar figure would be 8g/pkm.

    @11, most journeys are city-to-city or rural-to-city, so train/coach plus decent parking at rural railheads with a frequent service (see: ‘how everyone who lives in rural Surrey gets to work’) covers it well. Even for urban-to-rural, renting a car at a destination railhead (eg train to Preston/Glasgow, drive to Windemere/Oban) often works out cheaper and faster than driving all the way.

  10. Also @10, you’re forgetting the capital cost (£ and CO2) of buying a fleet of minibuses for off-peak use in addition to the double deckers for peak use. You can’t use the minibuses on-peak, because they’re a waste of road space…

  11. When they calculate the fuel consumption for these things such as VW Polo Diesels do they put dummies in them, and if so how many? It only weighs 800kg, so 4 adults at 280kg adds about 35% to its weight.

  12. The beauty of trains is their quantness- plus the fact that they demand a large organisation to run them.
    Out of interest do Defra’s figures include the CO2 employed in building, running and maintaining railroads- including all road vehicles used in the process? The cars used by the ticket office staff, as well as the Boss, the heating and lighting of offices and workshops that would otherwise be unnecessary?
    As for the idea that I would have been better to get a bus to the nearest station, a train to London, get onto the underground, get a train to Preston (not sure if you need to change trains for this) and then get in a local hire car- with my family and camping gear for a fotnight just outside Windermere- I’d be glad to accompany someone willing to demonstrate this.
    Of course, given the temperature trends since ’99 we may decide it’s a good idea to pump CO2 into the atmosphere, to stop the cooling- or we may decide that climate is controlled by something other than CO2 and that emissions are irrelevant

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