Train can be worse for climate than plane
True or false: taking the commuter train across Boston results in lower greenhouse gas emissions than travelling the same distance in a jumbo jet. Perhaps surprisingly, the answer is false.
A new study compares the "full life-cycle" emissions generated by 11 different modes of transportation in the US. Unlike previous studies on transport emissions, Mikhail Chester and Arpad Horvath of the University of California, Berkeley, looked beyond what is emitted by different types of car, train, bus or plane while their engines are running and includes emissions from building and maintaining the vehicles and their infrastructure, as well as generating the fuel to run them. (Table 1 on page 3 has a complete list of components that were considered).
Transport studies expert Abigail Bristow of Loughborough University, UK, who was not involved in the study, says it is valuable because it attempts to compare transport on equal terms. To do this, Chester and Horvath calculated how many passengers each train, plane, bus or car would carry in its lifetime and how many kilometres it would cover. The pair took into account how much each infrastructure component — such as tracks, roads and airports — is used in its lifetime.