Thursday, May 08, 2008

Back To The Future...By Train

For a more personal perspective on this issue, check out Ragebot.

Despite the fact that our governments have turned air travel into a delay-filled, clothes-shedding nightmare, flying is still the most convenient way to get from point A to point B. In fact, many people have no choice—distances are simply too large and alternative too few. But air travel is not the future. It simply can't be.

Though estimates vary, flying creates more greenhouse emissions per passenger mile than almost any other form of transport. The Eurostar Consortium, for example, estimates that their emissions per passenger mile are 1/10 that of an equivalent plane flight. Now the Eurostar runs at near capacity, but no matter how you slice it, air travel is problematic. Check out this chart:
Per Passenger Mile Emissions
Pretty sobering huh? You could do better in a car (assuming you're not by yourself), much better going by train, and much, much better by bus. But that's not even the whole story. Jet aircraft emit greenhouse gases—not just CO2, but NOx and water vapor—directly into the upper atmosphere where they do more damage and are less likely to be absorbed.

So where does this leave countries like the US, countries that lack well developed alternatives to air travel? Unfortunately in the position of playing catch up. We need to begin upgrading our rail systems, and we need to do it right-f*cking-now! More high-speed corridors? Yes. Infrastructure to support work and life during longer cross-country trips? Hell yes! Otherwise...a latter-day Era of the Zeppelins may be the only way to drastically reduce emissions from long distance transport.

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