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Train vs Plane

Air travel is now the fastest-growing contributor to global warming, and avoiding a flight when there are easy alternatives is probably the biggest single thing that can be done to cut your carbon footprint and limit your impact on the environment. Many people are now looking for environmentally friendly ways to travel.

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It′s not an exact science, but Eurostar has done its homework and commissioned independent research to assess the CO2 per passenger produced by a London to Paris train journey versus a passenger on a London-Paris flight (Aircraft unknown.) The research looked at actual Eurostar passenger loadings, actual Eurostar power consumption, the way Eurostar′s electricity is generated, actual aircraft loadings, actual aircraft fuel consumption, etc. The conclusion was remarkable. Taking a train to Paris instead of flying cuts CO2 emissions per passenger by a staggering 90%...

With airport security tightened, check-ins up to 2-3 hours, plus the time and cost involved in getting to and from remote airports at each end, taking the train direct to a city centre at both ends could cut stress levels by a similar percentage!

The environmental benefit of taking the train instead of a plane is probably much greater than 90%. Airliners emit their CO2 directly into the upper atmosphere, where it is likely to do more than twice the damage (2.7 times the damage, in fact) of the same quantity of CO2 emitted at sea level.

CO2 emissions per passenger...

Journey: Out & back by plane... Out & back by train...
London to Paris by Eurostar 3.5 hours,
244 Kg/CO2
2.75 hours,
22 Kg/CO2
London to Edinburgh 3.5 hours,
193 Kg/CO2
4.5 hours,
24 Kg/CO2
London to Nice 4 hours,
250 Kg/CO2
8 hours by Eurostar TGV,
36 Kg/CO2
London to Barcelona 4.5 hours,
277 Kg/CO2
Eurostar then overnight sleeper,
40 Kg/CO2
London to Tangier 5 hours,
435 Kg/CO2
48 hours by Eurostar, sleeper trains & ferry,
63 Kg/CO2

Here are some comparisons (showing CO2 quantities alone, excluding the upper atmosphere effect):

Source: The Observer, 29 January 2006 & www.eurostar.com. Times are centre-to-centre, each way. Kg/CO2 is for a return journey

Apart from producing 10 times less CO2 than an equivalent flight, Eurostar has now pledged to reduce its own emissions by 25% by 2012, and to offset every traveller′s CO2 free of charge as from November 2007, making Eurostar journeys carbon-neutral at no cost to travellers. Eurostar has also launched a ′tread lightly′ initiative, looking at recycling their own waste and that collected from the trains. Full marks to Eurostar... For more information on these initiatives and on Eurostar′s emissions research, see www.eurostar.com/environment.

Accurate figures for other types of train are few and far between. But high-speed TGVs across France are technically similar to Eurostar and use electricity from the same sources, so are likely to make a similar environmental saving as Eurostar when compared to flying. Sleeper trains across France to Italy, Spain or the south of France may have fewer passengers per car than a high-speed train such as Eurostar, but counterbalancing this is that they generally travel at only 100mph or less, which requires much less energy than a power-hungry 186mph high-speed train. A sleeper train still carries several hundred passengers with one conventional locomotive, whereas Eurostar has two big power-cars plus two more powered bogies in the adjacent passenger coaches as well. So sleeper trains are also likely to make a significant saving on CO2 emissions when compared to flying.

Doing yourself a favour, as well as the planet...

There′s another good reason for taking the train instead of flying. In an increasingly globalised world, where every flight is the same stressful non-experience, trains and ships show you more of the country you′re visiting and its culture. On business, train travel can be productive, with room to work and powerpoints for laptops on many trains. On leisure journeys, time together on the train can actually be quality time with your loved ones. You might just find a train journey a more interesting and rewarding experience that in reality doesn′t take that much longer than flying...