Are Trains The Greenest Way To Travel?


Well, no walking is, but I couldn’t fit everything into the title. What I wanted to write was “Are Trains The Greenest Way To Travel A Long Distance?”. You can’t really ride a bike from England to France or from Maine to Florida, so Life Goggles decided to do some investigating on whether going by train is the best way to travel.

The biggest provider of train travel is Amtrak and although it’s expensive for a traveller, you can get some good monthly deals on certain routes. But how environmentally friendly is it?

Statistics on Amtraks’s website show how much more energy efficient a train is compared to a car or a plane (measure in British Thermal Units):

• Airliner 3,587
• Car 3,549
• Train 2,935

Amtrak have introduced a more efficient and lighter “Auto Train” fleet reducing annual fuel usage by 640,000 gallons.

The introduction of Acela Express high speed trainsets and other new and remanufactured electric locomotives has enabled them to reduce energy consumption by eight percent through the use of a regenerative braking system. This returns electric energy overhead to the catenary power system and replaces some of the electrical energy consumed. And they’ve increased the use of dynamic braking, which involves the electric traction motors in locomotives, provides resistance to the rotating wheel axle. This method of slowing trains is more fuel efficient than braking with power applied.

It’s also revised an operating policy to reduce the amount of time that a powered locomotive sits idling and is installing a new automatic shut-off system in its diesel locomotive fleet.

And finally, with a state grant from the California South Coast Air Quality Management District, Amtrak is retrofitting a switch engine with RailPower Company’s hybrid “Green Goat” technology. The hybrid locomotive will be used in the Los Angeles Yard and will reduce fuel consumption by 75 percent and emissions by 80 percent.

You can find out more about their green intiatives, including their seedling giveaways, here.

Europe is a complex network of train companies and travel. France is dominated by SNCF, SNCB in Belgium and various companies such as OBB in Austria, ICE Deutsche Bahn in Germany, SBB in Switzerland and so on. All these companies and more have come together under Railteam and soon you’ll be able to book a journey throughout Europe, across different train companies, in one go.

So it’s easy to book train travel in Europe, but how environmentally friendly is it? Another member of Railteam is Eurostar which travels from London, England to Paris, France, Brussels, Belgium and other destinations in those countries.

It’s almost easier to list what Eurostar aren’t doing to be green as it’s probably the greenest mass transport carrier in the world. It’s launched it’s Tread Lightly initiative which has a ten point plan of how they’re going to be greener.

Eurostar say their journey is already 10 times less polluting than travelling by plane, but they aim to cut carbon emissions a further 25% per passenger by 2012. And they plan to be even greener by:

• Reducing paper usage by switching to e-tickets and bar code ticketing downloaded to mobile phones; undertaking direct marketing via email and web-based information; and where paper is unavoidable, sourcing from sustainable forests or recycled paper, and recycling all used paper
• Separating, sorting and recycling all on-board waste, including food waste, by the most appropriate methods
• Ensuring on-board disposable items (e.g. cups, plates, napkins) are either biodegradable (made from maize extract) or fully recyclable
• Replacing train air-conditioning refrigerants with the less environmentally damaging chemical R134a by 2008 – seven years before the EU deadline
• Refurbishing or de-branding and recycling used staff uniforms
• Sourcing on-train food from local sources in UK, France or Belgium wherever available, including organic suppliers, or Fairtrade for overseas supplies
• Ensuring that lighting, heating and mechanical plant at stations, depots and offices are as energy efficient as possible; developing a ‘switch-off’ culture; and sourcing electricity from greener sources of energy
• Reusing water from train-washing at the new Temple Mills maintenance depot, and investing in rainwater collection to further reduce consumption
• Sorting and recycling waste from stations, offices and the Temple Mills maintenance depot, with the goal of zero disposal to landfill; and with 80 per cent of waste to be recycled by 2009
• Helping travellers reduce CO2 emissions when accessing Eurostar services by providing journey planner information and ticket sales for public transport options, and developing new travel initiatives and partnerships.

Any remaining emissions will be offset, but not in the usual way. Instead of planting trees, the company is looking at schemes which help the community as well as offset – environmentally-friendly cookers in Africa for example – more details are to be announced.

It seems if you way to go green, go by train.


One thought on “Are Trains The Greenest Way To Travel?

  1. Going by train is more green – but apart from this I think it’s also more fun and much less stressful than being crammed on to a plane and at least you can take a walk on a train!


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