The question recently came up on a friends blog: what would be the least Carbon intensive method of getting from Ottawa to Vancouver. These numbers are for a single 4800km trip, per person.
Well, Car I can actually calculate. It’s quite easy – for every 432 liters of fuel burnt, that’s 1000kg. And since we look at mileage in liters per hundred kilometers, we can merely multiply average mileage by 48 to get the number of liters burnt.
Honda Civic: Claimed highway mileage is 6L/100km. Calculated at 8L/100km total fuel burnt is 384 liters – crucially less than 432. Therefore, it is more CO2 friendly to drive your Honda Civic on your own across the country than to take the train.
Chevrolet Suburban: Actual Highway Mileage 12-20L/100km (POOR). Calculated at 18 (POOR!) we get 860L – about two tonnes. However, put one other person in your truck and your down to the same as the train. Put 6 in, which it can take in comfort, and you are down to 330kg each.
Take note that I’ve used a very bad mileage figure for the truck. I would be astounded if I actually managed to get such a bad mileage figure on such a trip. In practice it only reaches this kind of mileage climbing the Coquihalla. I have done as well as 12L/100km (on an 800km trip).
So, it turns out that trains arn’t environmentally friendly for long trips after all, at least not because they are CO2 light. They are good for many other reasons however- it is wasteful for everyone to own a car which is used only rarely. And you can transport more people more quickly on rails than on highways (the Lakeshore Go train line carries 3 times as many people as the Gardiner expressway during Rush house – and trains run only 4 times an hour!)