Carbon emissions North American trains

Discussion in 'International Transport' started by BigCj34, 12 Nov 2019.

  1. BigCj34

    BigCj34 Member

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    I am doing a trip to Canada next year, in BC then going over to Toronto and Montreal, and wondered what actually is the greenest way to travel cross country in Canada (and probably the US). The flygskam movement portrays flying as an absolute bad, and in most of Europe rail is greener than flying especially with a large number of routes being electrified.

    I did consider taking the Canadian from Vancouver to Toronto but is this actually any greener than flying? This is considering the whole route runs off diesel locomotives and the flight would be in a modern relatively efficient jet engine which, due to the distance covered, is at its most efficient. Would be interesting to know similarly for the cross-country Amtrak trips.

    Presumably the cleanest way to cross North America is by bus, but there are no trans-Canadian Greyhound services (though can still be done in the US).
     
    Last edited: 12 Nov 2019
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  3. Crepello

    Crepello Member

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    Pragmatic suggestion: Folks who believe that by traveling, they're personally destroying Planet Earth should probably just stay home.

    Everyone else should book whichever form of travel best suits their pleasures and budget - and then enjoy their experiences exploring said planet.
     
  4. BigCj34

    BigCj34 Member

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    Not particularly helpful? Especially younger folk like myself who have to deal with climste change. Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good, for the odd time I might choose to travel I'd like to do things sustainably.
     
  5. JonathanP

    JonathanP Member

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  6. takno

    takno Established Member

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    I would guess that the bus is greener, but not by an order of magnitude. The plane is quite likely to still be worse, although certainly not on the same scale as within the UK. At the end of the day your flight to North America is likely to make all options pale into insignificance, and if you go hundreds of miles out of your way to get the bus it will probably eliminate any benefits.

    Go whichever way suits your trip best and try not to fly anywhere for a couple of years when you get back
     
  7. BigCj34

    BigCj34 Member

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    The Canadian service also would lose efficiency as it's a sleeper train, fewer passengers per square metre than it being all coach class. Bus could make sense if I was crossing the US coast to coast but there is no such service in Canada.

    As for flying over there, there aren't any greener commercial options than flying economy with no hold luggage, unless I managed to hop on a freight ship. It'll be my first time outside Europe in 8 years anyway.
     
  8. BigCj34

    BigCj34 Member

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    It was difficult it enough to Google, the results I got were only relevant to Europe with its electrified lines.
     
  9. edwin_m

    edwin_m Veteran Member

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    There was a lot of publicity about Greta Thunberg crossing the Atlantic in a carbon-neutral way (and not being sure how to get back again). She has also travelled quite a bit within North America but on a quick Internet search I can't find anything on how she did that.
     
  10. 181

    181 Member

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    I think takno is broadly right. There is some information here and here. Admittedly Wikipedia isn't 100% reliable, but both sections are well-provided with references, albeit from a few years ago. The cheaper types of on-train accommodation presumably use less energy per passenger (and if you're considering bus travel then I'm guessing you're probably not considering a Prestige Class sleeper compartment).

    If you have the time (and money if it costs more), I'd certainly suggest going by train -- it seems a waste to go all the way across the Atlantic and then miss much of what's on the other side by getting on another plane. https://www.seat61.com/ has information on both Canada and the USA, if you haven't looked at it already.
     
  11. takno

    takno Established Member

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    I'm not being judgemental of the enterprise, just trying to suggest that if you're going to make a big trip it's better to make the best of it, and skimping on a relatively low-polluting part of the trip is a false carbon economy if you end up regretting it and wanting to go back and do it properly!

    When I did the trans-canada train I went seated rather than in a sleeper, which is much closer to the bus both in price and carbon use. I also thought it was probably more interesting - I met a few really interesting people doing part of the route, and the experience of going through Northern Ontario through the night, stopping every few miles for local passengers, added a lot of colour to the journey. I also find the same can be true of bus journeys, but the road route through the US is likely to be much less scenic, and I generally like the US less anyway.

    Whatever you choose to do enjoy it - I'm quite jealous!
     
  12. ac6000cw

    ac6000cw Established Member

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    I'd agree with that.

    There is a quick comparison of VIA rail's carbon emissions on this Wikipedia page - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Via_Rail#Carbon_emissions . Traditional North American railway passenger cars are heavy - typically around 60 tonnes for long-distance single-deck stock - so the average tare weight per passenger on the Canadian will be much higher than a typical UK train. But compared to the amount of coal, oil and gas Canada exports the carbon emissions from your train journey pale into insignificance...

    Having visited western Canada twice, the mountainous areas are stunningly, breathtakingly beautiful but it can get expensive - it's very popular with tourists which helps keep the accommodation prices high, so bear that in mind if your budget is tight. Also the Canadian travels on the arguably less scenic of the two transcontinental rail routes (it uses the more northerly CN route via Edmonton and Jasper). Only the very expensive Rocky Mountaineer tour train runs on the 'cross every mountain pass' CP route via Banff, Kicking Horse Pass and Rogers Pass. West of Kamloops both CN and CP lines follow the same basic route to Vancouver (in fact they share each others tracks for a good part of the way).
     
  13. BigCj34

    BigCj34 Member

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    I have been doing some number crunching with what data I can find with North American trains (National Geographic looked at New York to Toronto and gives 155g CO2/passenger mile). The question is how does efficiency compare on The Canadian compared to a seated service from Toronto to Montreal for instance (which worked out as 70g per passenger mile).
     
  14. jamesontheroad

    jamesontheroad Established Member

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    VIA Rail don’t publish fuel consumption figures for the Canadian, but they have published this page to promote the competitiveness of the train against the car and the plane in their most important commercial corridor between Ontario and Quebec.

    (There is a pretty staggering number of flights along the same routes: Air Canada, WestJet and Porter all compete between Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal and the secondary cities. AC basically has an hourly departure all day on YYZ-YUL, sometimes with wide body jets that are positioning during rush hours for long haul flights.)
     
  15. ac6000cw

    ac6000cw Established Member

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    I don't have numbers, but the Canadian is going to be somewhat worse than a Toronto to Montreal 'corridor' service - lower average passenger density per car and it's hauled by less fuel-efficient, older (30+ years, but rebuilt 2007-2012), EMD F40PH-2 diesel locomotives. The more modern GE P42DC locos are concentrated on the 'corridor' services. I doubt the Canadian is any better than your New York to Toronto example (and it's probably worse as that service is seated accommodation only in Amfleet cars - no low-passenger-density sleepers and dining cars).
     
    Last edited: 13 Nov 2019
  16. MarcVD

    MarcVD Member

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  17. JonasB

    JonasB Member

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  18. TRAX

    TRAX Member

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    Whichever you choose between plane or train, both will still run on that day so why the fuss ?
     
  19. BigCj34

    BigCj34 Member

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    People choose not to fly on certain trips because they don't want to support airlines who have a more polluting product than the alternative. It's called voting with your wallet. With Swedish airports facing a decline in patronage and an increase in rail travel in Europe with additional night train services being created, flygskam us clearly having an impact!
     
  20. edwin_m

    edwin_m Veteran Member

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    Fuel consumption is far more weight-dependent for planes than for trains - the weight of the plane and contents has to be lifted to 30000+ feet instead of a few thousand on a train. If one person doesn't travel and the airline doesn't manage to fill the seat then there will be a small but measurable reduction in fuel consumption and CO2 emitted. It's much less significant if the same happens on a train.
     
  21. BigCj34

    BigCj34 Member

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    I had actually no idea that the passengers, crew and luggage collectively could weight almost half as much as the plane unfilled (which weighs, if you go by a Boeing 737-800 weighing 41 tonnes. However the fuel used per passenger still decreases even if the efficiency decreases overall.

    With a train, sleeper train emissions are at a disadvantage compared to seated trains. If you doubled the passenger numbers in a sleeper train then in theory the CO2 emissions per passenger halves. But say a sleeper train and a seated train had the same passenger capacity, but the sleeper train had three times as many carriages, how much would the locomotives fuel usage increase by hauling three times as many carriages? Presumably it's less than simply three times as much fuel.
     
  22. edwin_m

    edwin_m Veteran Member

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    Yes it does, energy losses due to aerodynamics, auxiliary services and engine inefficiencies are independent of weight on either a train or a plane. But the actual fuel use and emissions will go down if there are fewer passengers, and the relationship is far stronger with a plane than with a plane. From an ecological point of view it's best if planes are full, but not if they are filled up with people who would otherwise travel by train or not at all (something the airlines fail to mention in their statements about environmental friendliness).

    There's also a multiplier effect because the fuel itself represents a significant fraction of the weight on take-off, and the plane may have to take on more if there is more load. The practice of "tankering", where a plane takes on more fuel than necessary to avoid refuelling at a more expensive destination, has been in the news over the last few days. This effect doesn't exist for electric trains and is much smaller for a diesel because the fuel is only a tiny part of the train's weight.
    An electric train uses about 80% of the power from the wire to do useful work, so I guess the consumption for three times the load would go up by around 80% of 3 ignoring complications such as regenerative braking. A diesel is much less efficient but the losses depend on the demands being made on the engine, so the calculation is much more difficult but I think the multiplier would be less. But in either case the electric would use less energy in total.
     
  23. ac6000cw

    ac6000cw Established Member

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    It's going to depend a lot on the terrain (flat or hilly) and how frequent the stops and slow downs are (both for passenger purposes and due to other rail traffic - which is currently heavy on the Canadian route).

    Trains are high mass, so it takes a lot of energy to accelerate them to line speed from a stop, but their rolling resistance is very low so at moderate speeds it doesn't need a lot of power to keep them rolling on the flat (the Canadian top speed is 70 mph as far as I can find - its average speed over the 2775 mile route is about 30 mph on the current 4 day/4 night schedule). But on significant climbs it's basically power versus gravity, so the diesel fuel burn is going to be much more closely related to train weight in that situation. That's also reasonably true during the acceleration period away from stops.

    For reference, the Canadian route is relatively flat - maximum gradient is about 1% as far as I know, and most of the climbs are less than that.
     
  24. 181

    181 Member

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    I don't have the facts on this to hand, and if correct it may well refer to pollutants other than carbon dioxide, but I have seen it said that emissions from aircraft at high altitude are more damaging than the same emissions at ground level.

    (This isn't intended to make the OP feel guilty about flying to North America -- I went there myself a couple of years ago -- but it might be another reason for staying on the ground once there).
     
  25. class26

    class26 Member

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    I went on the Canadian several years ago and it was doing much more than 70mph across the Prairies. I would say 85 - 90 for long stretches
     
  26. edwin_m

    edwin_m Veteran Member

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    In the States the FRA requires cab signaling on any route where speed exceeds 79mph - that's for all trains not just those that run at the higher speed. Not surprisingly the freight railroads don't want anything to do with this, and even when I last did significant mileage on Amtrak in 1990 there were few routes so fitted. One was the line along the southern bank of the Columbia into Portland Oregon (which no longer has passenger service), where we were delayed by over an hour because the cab signaling on the Amtrak loco wouldn't work and they had to find a UP loco to pilot it. I think the Southwest Chief route was the only long section in the West allowing these speeds. I don't know about Canada but as far as I know then follow the FRA's lead pretty closely.
     

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