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July 13, 2007

Trains and Automobiles

Most amusing. Those guys at Lancaster University have updated their calculations about the relative emissions of trains and cars. Trains don't come off all that well:

It can be greener to drive than catch the train, according to a rail industry study which reveals that trains are losing their environmental advantage.

Modern diesel-powered trains are so polluting that a family of three or more would be responsible for at least double the carbon dioxide emissions on many routes when travelling by rail compared with driving in a typical medium-sized car.

So, err, that integrated public transport system as a cure for climate change seems not to actually be the correct response.

He said that modern trains tended to be less efficient than older ones because they were much heavier. Safety regulations have added to the weight by requiring more robust bodies and crumple zones. New trains also carry more equipment, such as air-conditioning and motors for sliding doors, and have space-consuming lavatories for disabled passengers. Britain’s long-distance trains typically weigh more than a tonne per seat. By contrast, Japan’s bullet trains weigh only 500kg per seat as they are made using lighter, more advanced materials.

My word, really? You mean that safety is not an absolute? That there are trade offs? Quick! Alert the media!

Ministers have already admitted that some trains on rural lines, such as the diesel Sprinter, are less efficient than 4x4s because they are often almost empty. Douglas Alexander, when he was Transport Secretary, said last year: “If ten or fewer people travel in a Sprinter, it would be less environmentally damaging to give them each a Land Rover Freelander and tell them to drive.”

So let's shut down those little used branch lines then: after all, climate change is indeed the greatest threat we face. Buying a fleet of Land Rovers would be better: and just think how grateful Ford will be as they try to unload the company.

July 13, 2007 in Travel | Permalink

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Comments

The "empty train" needs to be incorporated into overall calculation, because trains go back and forth along a line whereas human traffic will be only one direction at peak times.

The same applies to lorries, the pollution per ton haulage is always doubled to account for the lorry returning to its destination empty.

There is support for a proposal to tarmac over all the railway lines and use them for coach and lorries, the former performing the same function as the train they replace. This would not only be more economical, less polluting and easier to manage peak traffic, but it would reduce congestion on normal roads that are currently being clogged up by coach and lorry.

I travel every day by train, many times standing squashed up against other passengers for the entire journey. Other than wondering why in the 21st century I'm still being treated like cattle, it also makes me question why coaches have severe laws detailing seating, seatbelts and emergency exits, yet this does not apply to trains, which on the whole travel faster and have less supervision (one driver per several thousand passengers as opposed to about 1:80 for a coach).

There is an obvious reason why UK statistics are done per passenger and not per seat. The fact is that road style safety laws applied to trains would kill the industry dead, it just would not compete on anything; cost, pollution, peak capacity.

I used to be a great proponent of rail travel, but every day I spend in that "cattle truck" I find it harder to justify its existance, perhaps Dr Beeching was right after all.

Posted by: IanCroydon | Jul 13, 2007 10:19:31 AM

[it also makes me question why coaches have severe laws detailing seating, seatbelts and emergency exits, yet this does not apply to trains, which on the whole travel faster and have less supervision (one driver per several thousand passengers as opposed to about 1:80 for a coach)]

you aren't being serious here are you? please tell me you're having a laugh. if not, pondering the word "rails" might help.

Posted by: dsquared | Jul 13, 2007 10:28:11 AM

you aren't being serious here are you? please tell me you're having a laugh. if not, pondering the word "rails" might help.

Because, of course, the magical power of the word "rails" is enough to overpower the facts.

Posted by: windowlicker | Jul 13, 2007 10:54:33 AM

"..if not, pondering the word "rails" might help."

Yup, if you travel on those magical 'rails', you can defy the laws of physics themselves!

If the train abruptly decelerates (after hitting an obstruction on the line), you won't need seat belts. You simply won't get flung about the carriage, the natural laws of momentum and motion having ceased to apply the moment you boarded the train.....

Posted by: JuliaM | Jul 13, 2007 11:45:56 AM

Nice piece of analysis. Now let's see what the CO2 emissions are like walking to school vs. car sharing. My back-of-the-envelope calculations show that walking to school is worse.

Posted by: Kay Tie | Jul 13, 2007 12:05:05 PM

OK, you try shutting down public transport in London and you will have signed London's death warrant.

Posted by: Mark Wadsworth | Jul 13, 2007 12:28:54 PM

"So let's shut down those little used branch lines then"

Of course, one of the main reasons they're little used is because we *don't* have an integrated transport system.

Posted by: Jim | Jul 13, 2007 12:32:21 PM

I'm not sure that the child Alexander was allowing for the amount of time that a Freelander tends to spend off the road and in the garage awaiting repair.

Posted by: dearieme | Jul 13, 2007 12:42:03 PM

1) Dan is obviously right, and everyone else is obviously silly. Bonus points to Windowlicker for using 20-year-old American data.

Here's some more recent data (link is for presentation - source is DfT) suggesting that, as might be expected, rail is c8X safer than cars. Buses are about the same as rail - the exact relationship between those two depends on whether there's a major rail accident in the year (because buses run slowly in towns and therefore tend to kill the occasional older person by making them fall over/down the stairs, whereas rail accidents are either trivial or Very Bad). 2005 was a bad year because of Ufton; this year pro-rata-ed would be c0.1 for railways.

http://news.scotsman.com/scotland.cfm?id=1058932007#comment766787

With the safety point out of the way, the next one is capacity. While petrolheads love the Transportwatch "rip up the train lines and turn them into motorways" jokers, their plans are simply lies - there is no possible way they could achieve a capacity increase; it would decrease. Ask someone with a qualification in transport planning if you don't believe me (note: Transportwatch is a one man band, and the one man has no such qualification)

Finally, the environment. The central point of the original study is that electric trains are actually far less polluting than other transport modes (and most passengers are carried on electric trains, on the main intercity routes and urban/suburban lines). Especially if (as we're finally starting to do) you have regenerative braking so that most braking energy is returned to the grid rather than turned into heat.

The Voyager comparison is also a bit misleading - they're 125mph fast trains with 3750hp of power per train and are usually rammed, whereas the local trains that carry nobody much from nowhere much to nowhere else (and therefore bring the overall occupancy stats down) are 750hp max, with corresponding fuel efficiencies.

Posted by: john b | Jul 13, 2007 2:46:03 PM

"one driver per several thousand passengers as opposed to about 1:80 for a coach"

Well that must mean airliners are really, really unsafe, right? 500mph and 2 drivers for 200+ passengers!? Good God!

Or is it more complicated than that?

Posted by: Neil | Jul 13, 2007 3:32:32 PM

And just think how safe that makes motorbikes!

Posted by: john b | Jul 13, 2007 3:42:45 PM

Do the figures include the 250 p.a. deaths by tresspass and suicide on the railways? And if not, should they?

Posted by: dearieme | Jul 13, 2007 4:15:00 PM

Do the road stats include all the people who lob themselves of Clifton Suspension Bridge? And if not, should they?

Posted by: Neil | Jul 13, 2007 4:16:15 PM

Being able to lob yourself off Clifton Suspension Bridge from a moving vehicle would make spiderman green with envy. If your going to do that you walk along the pedestran walkways on either side before picking your spot.

Posted by: chris strange | Jul 13, 2007 5:48:20 PM

John B,

Thanks for the bonus points. Here's a tip in return: when citing data, it should support your argument. To quote:

Rail: 0.4 deaths per billion passenger km
Bus/coach: 0.3 deaths per billion passenger km

I.e. rail is 33% more dangerous than bus/coach.

This is the average for 1995-2004 (the latest available in the DfT 2006 report, p. 10). The data I quoted previously was for 1990-1997 - quite how this is 20 years old is a mystery.

Posted by: windowlicker | Jul 13, 2007 7:20:48 PM

Chris strange: If you were in the vehicle, you wouldn't be trespassing.

Posted by: Neil | Jul 14, 2007 12:18:13 AM

Jim,

"Ask someone with a qualification in transport planning if you don't believe me"

Such as?

Posted by: Tim Almond | Jul 14, 2007 1:01:31 AM

@ Windowlicker - coach travel has a tiny, tiny, tiny modal share. The vast majority of passenger km travelled by bus/coach are in buses, which go slowly through towns. This is not condusive to passenger fatalities.

@ Tim Almond - this chap doesn't have a qualification in transport planning, but is a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport. I do know a few people with qualifications in transport planning, but sadly none of them run blogs.

Posted by: john b | Jul 14, 2007 11:15:06 AM

john b: "Ask someone with a qualification in transport planning if you don't believe me "

If these are the qualifications owned by the "experts" who've completely f*cked-up the traffic flows in my home town, frankly they're the last people that I'd ask - if I wanted a sensible answer anyway. One gets the impression that they ended up in "transport planning" because they lacked the intellectual rigour to get onto the "football studies" degree.

Posted by: Jeff | Jul 16, 2007 4:55:09 PM