On matters of emissions, energy savings, railroads pay handsome dividends

In my collection of resource materials, I found a book that I had completely forgotten about. The book is titled: “30 Simple Energy Things You Can Do To Save The Earth.”1

Energy savings idea number 27 on page 57 has to do with: “Auto Savings.”

360px-CBX_Parkchester_6_jeh[1]On that page near the top in italics is the following: “Private automobiles account for more than 33% of America’s carbon dioxide emissions, 34% of acid-rain causing nitrogen oxides, and 27% of smog-related hydrocarbons.”

I was interested in seeing comparative data on railroad operations, so I turned to the Association of American Railroads (AAR). On its “Energy and Environment” page the AAR proclaims, railroads are not just green they’re the “‘greenest,’ most fuel-efficient form of land transportation” going. On one gallon of fuel, a ton of rail freight can on average travel 484 miles. Moreover, one ton of freight moved one mile results in a greenhouse gas emissions savings of 75 percent on average compared to the same ton of freight moved via highway. And, the average freight train removes “the load of 280 or more trucks” from the road, the equivalent of “removing 1,100 cars.”

The savings for passenger trains are equally if not more impressive. Many of America’s passenger rail networks are electrified, resulting in even greater emissions benefits.

Meanwhile, in the Nov. 4, 2007 Parade magazine cover feature story “A Better Way To Travel?” author Peter Richmond declares, “…the rest of the industrialized world is investing heavily in its train systems. From border to border, Europe is wiring itself for high-speed rail. ….The result? Decreased emissions and increased productivity.”

And, adds Richmond, “Trains use one-fifth less energy than cars or planes.”

As for recent U.S. passenger railway growth there is progress, but it has been slow going, comparatively speaking, and I don’t see any radical change in this regard, at least not in the near-term, anyway.

But as for why America lags woefully behind, “Blame it on our love affair with the automobile and a historical antipathy of legislators for subsidizing the nation’s railroads,” explains Richmond. “Our government’s disdain for trains began with FDR, who in the late 1930s turned his back on fat-cat railroad barons asking for federal handouts. Two decades later, President Eisenhower certified our commitment to cars when he built the interstate highway system.”

TrainIt has only been recently that more and more passenger railway systems have come on line with more in the offing. In fact, the U.S. has amassed a collection of 36 light rail systems coast to coast. One domestic high-speed rail network is presently in the works – California’s – with a possible second – XpressWest – which is presumably good to go but it hinges, purportedly, on a multi-billion dollar federal loan being approved.

But the progress that has been made, even though it’s been slow, it’s far better than the alternative – none at all.


  1. “30 Simple Energy Things You Can Do To Save The Earth,” Earth Works Press, distributed by Pacific Gas and Electric Company, 2006, p. 57.

– Alan Kandel