Blog: The Next 100

Lynne Kiesling

The Next 100 is an interesting blog from some folks at PG&E; check it out and see what you think. They cover a range of energy, technology, and environment topics that will resonate with readers of Knowledge Problem, Environmental Economics, and the Wall Street Journal’s Environmental Capital. Although they do seem, at least in the current posts, to be staying assiduously away from policy analysis …

In particular, I am grateful for their post on the life cycle emissions profiles of different ways of transporting people. This study cited in their posts suggests “Rail buffs, gird your loins: travel by train can actually produce more greenhouse gas emissions than flying.” I’d like to see this analysis repeated for freight, to see if my thought that rail generates fewer emissions than trucks carrying equivalent tonnage an equivalent distance is correct.

3 thoughts on “Blog: The Next 100

  1. “to see if my thought that rail generates fewer emissions than trucks carrying equivalent tonnage an equivalent distance is correct.”

    Off the top of my head (with no actual, you know, knowledge or calculation involved) answer would be yes. The failure of rail for passengers is, I think, about load factors. Planes are usually pretty full, trains less so.

    But freight trains are usually 100% full…..

  2. Lynne, I thought this was an interesting observation, but, someone who has been thinking about these things for longer than I have says:

    “This report by Chester was discussed on the Pro-Urb email group a
    couple of weeks ago. Apparently the results for trains were skewed
    because they included driving to the station – assuming an American
    context in other words. The comparator figures were also taken from a
    very old railway line in Boston, Massachusetts. The other thing
    included in the report that was at least disingenuous was comparing
    planes in journeys of less than 100km. That is not a practical or
    realistic scenario, yet it was compared as like-for-like.

    I would argue for stations located in places that are served by buses
    and trams or in areas of higher density within walkable distance so
    that passengers don’t need to use cars to get to the station.

    This report is of relevance:

    Energy Use and Pollution of Travel Modes

    Also this comment by one of the members of Pro-Urb:

    ..Chester’s focus on life cycle energy and emissions per passenger
    mile of travel can lead one to optimize the wrong thing. Energy and
    emissions per trip are also very important, not just per mile of
    travel. The Green Line (and perhaps Muni) is used for many more
    trips and much shorter trips than commuter rail in the Boston
    region. The energy and emissions per trip are thus much smaller.
    There is greater population density, greater trip destination density
    and more frequent stops. … Obviously, all electrified rail also
    offers the opportunity to reduce total urban population exposures to
    pollutants of immediate health concern, though GHGs are a different
    matter. … Urban core transit in Boston carries over 1,000,000
    riders per weekday. They simply could not fit on our roadways in
    private vehicles.

    And this from a blog on the article:

    [T]he metrics for the jet travel across town is ridiculously
    incorrect. Even if the study authors included 1 take-off and 1
    landing in their comparison, a light rail trip across town would
    involve dozens of stops and starts. Maybe if the authors had
    considered this fact, added in multiple take-offs and landings and
    also considered the fact that using a jet for local commuting would
    require the construction of dozens of runways, as well as the amount
    of circling that would be required for large planes to travel these
    short distances, they would have managed to come to the perfectly
    obvious conclusion that using passenger jets in place of light-rail
    is hideously inefficient. I mean really, sometimes there’s a reason
    for something to seem counterintuitive. Like being wrong.

    His final comment to me was :- “Sometimes it pays to read these sorts of articles with a cynical eye!”

  3. Felix,

    Thanks for the resources! I agree that in such analyses the assumptions are carrying more of the weight of the argument than they often should, and that reading with a skeptical eye is important.

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