The train is losing its environmental advantage over the car as vehicle efficiency is improving according to a new study commissioned by the Rail Safety Standards Board.
The report finds that modern diesel-powered trains are so polluting that a family of three or more would be responsible for at least double the carbon dioxide emissions on many routes when travelling by rail compared with driving in a typical medium sized car.
The study urges Government to electrify key elements of the rail network to allow greener electric trams to replace diesel ones. The Virgin Voyager, one of the most advanced diesel trains on the network was found to have the highest emissions of any British Train, 112g/pkm, compared with just 40g/pkm of CO2 for the best-performing electric trains operated by GNER between London and Edinburgh. The increased weight of carriage air conditioning and other services is a key reason behind this.
GNER train emissions will have reduced to 28g/pkm by 2022 due to more efficient power generation, whereas the Voyagers, which expect to stay in operation onto after 2030 will remain unchanged. When present trends are taken into account the average car will have reduced emissions to 98g/pkm by 2022, sufficiently lower than some Diesel trains.
These findings come as interesting news and go someway to combat the very prevalent ‘anti-car’ lobby. The most efficient and environmentally sound transport system is one that makes suitable use of all the elements, whether it be road, rail, cycling or walking. Both road and rail infrastructures need to do more to reduce the environmental footprint of travel and the public needs to be given good quality information to make sound judgements on transport choices rather than relying on existing myths and prejudices.