what is the rail advantage in CO2 emissions over an equivalent air flight?

This week there was a news release by the Eurostar company about the comparative emissions of a Eurostar trip vs. the same trip via airplane.

each passenger on a return flight between London Heathrow and Paris Charles de Gaulle generates 122 kilograms of CO2, compared with just 11 kilograms for a traveller on a London-Paris return journey by train. A round trip between London Heathrow and Brussels airport generates 160 kg of CO2 per passenger, against only 18 kg of CO2 for a return journey by rail.

The distance between London and Paris is 495km or 298 miles via car (and probably close to what the train distance is). But the plane trip is shorter since the Chunnel is to the north of the straight-line route. The straight-line distance is 214 miles between Heathrow and Charles de Gaulle Airport. Google map of car route here. So the train pays a route penalty but still manages to easily beat the airplane.

Airplane: 0.57 CO2kg/mile. Train is between 0.037-0.05 CO2kgs/mile.

For the London to Brussels route, the car route is 418km or 251 miles. The Chunnel looks to be inline with the most direct route. The straight-line distance is 219 miles. Google map of car route here.

Airplane: 0.73 CO2kg/mile. Train is between 0.07-0.08 CO2kgs/mile.

Original new release reported:

Passengers who fly between London, Paris and Brussels generate ten times more emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) than travellers who go by rail, according to a study commissioned by train operator Eurostar.

The research shows that each passenger on a return flight between London Heathrow and Paris Charles de Gaulle generates 122 kilograms of CO2, compared with just 11 kilograms for a traveller on a London-Paris return journey by train. A round trip between London Heathrow and Brussels airport generates 160 kg of CO2 per passenger, against only 18 kg of CO2 for a return journey by rail.

Eurostar claim the figures are the most detailed ever produced and are based on actual passenger numbers, exact distances of rail and air routes, actual aircraft types in use on different routes, and the mix of electricity sources used by the company’s high speed trains.

Eurostar chief executive, Richard Brown, said: “Travellers are increasingly demanding factual information about the environmental impact of their travel plans, and what they can do to reduce emissions of gases which are causing climate change.”

With journey times between London and the Continent set to be cut by 20 minutes with the opening of the line into St Pancras in autumn 2007, Eurostar say the environmental advantages of using their service will be further increased. The research also shows that travelling by high-speed rail will generate even less CO2 per passenger in future years, due to increased supplies of renewable energy and UK policies to reduce CO2 emissions.

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6 Responses to what is the rail advantage in CO2 emissions over an equivalent air flight?

  1. 1. High Speed rail, because of much higher speeds, uses a lot more Co2 and energy than train travel at ordinary speeds — so ordinary train travel does even better when compared to airlines.

    BUT electric trains are much more energy efficient than diesel (I can’t remember how much for sure, but twice as much sticks in my head.) It is currently more energy efficient to create power in a power plant than via a distributed network of diesel engines.

    2. Measurement of pollution emitted by a train is heavily dependent on the kind of locomotive used. Not only the electric vs. diesel distinction, but the kind of diesel engine used makes a difference because recent engines, conforming to new EPA standards are much more efficient than older engines still in service. Statistics of pollution created by trains are sometimes distorted because they measure average pollution created by the total fleet that is still largely composed of older standard locomotives, while new services will be much more efficient than the industry average because they will use new locomotives.

    3. The other key is load factors. Planes these days run full and trains usually don’t. If you measure pollution per passenger vs pollution per seat mile, the results will come out different. Work on yield management systems and the energy burned for travel can be split among more travelers. You would also get quite a different result if you measured based on per square foot available to a passenger . . . since air passengers are squeezed like sardines, that will make the numbers look better.

  2. patrick says:

    HSR trains may use more energy than trains running at 79-mph. However, consider what the passengers would have been taking if they weren’t taking a HSR train: a highly polluting airplane. So even if the train is running half full I would suspect that the energy/CO2 efficiency is still there.

    Eurostar made a point of looking at the source of the electricity that they were using. France has a large number of nuclear power plants. This helps the Eurostar’s numbers.

  3. Patsy says:

    Airplane: 0.57 CO2kg/mile.
    Airplane: 0.57 CO2kg/mile

    Why the difference

  4. Patsy says:

    Airplane: 0.73 CO2kg/mile.

    Airplane: 0.57 CO2kg/mile

    Sorry, I meant these numbers

    Why the difference?

  5. patrick says:

    @Patsy

    Well I am using their numbers — but from my (limited) pilot training I can say with some certainty that the additional CO2/km (fuel) burned could come from:

    1. Takeoff/Landing fuel — so for short-distance flights the landing/takeoff fuel is a greater percentage of total fuel consumption.
    2. Airport congestion — if the airplane is forced to spend more time in the air waiting to land or taxiing for takeoff (“We are 23rd in line for takeoff”) that would also impact fuel consumption.
  6. Charles says:

    Obviously the difference is due to the fact that Eurostar use nuclear power electricity through France and England ( it buys it’s UK electricity from BE) so the only place it uses CO2 producing energy is Belgium.

    That is only half the story though, railways produce significant amounts of CO2 during maintenance of the track and running stations etc.

    If you look at Defra’s report below you see that there isn’t a lot of difference between the tailpipe emissions of a car,bus or a short haul plane ( all are about 80-100g/pkm). Rail is slightly ahead at 60g/pkm
    but if you include the non-tailpipe emissions it will be about the same.

    There is far more difference within individual types of transport e.g.some trains produce 2.5 times more pollution than others.

    http://www.defra.gov.uk/environment/business/reporting/pdf/passenger-transport.pdf

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