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Analysis Says Planes Might Be Greener Than Trains

timothy posted more than 5 years ago | from the for-some-values-of-greener dept.

Earth 345

New Scientist has an interesting piece up about the calculable energy costs per mile for various forms of transportation. Despite the headline ("Train can be worse for climate than plane"), the study it describes deals with highway-based vehicles, too: the authors attempted to integrate not just the cost at the tailpipe (or equivalent) for each mode of transport, but also the costs of developing and supporting the associated infrastructure, such as rails, highways and airports. Such comparisons are tricky, though; a few years back, a widely circulated report claimed that the Toyota Prius had a higher per-mile lifetime cost than the Hummer (see that earlier Slashdot post for good reason to be skeptical of the methodology and conclusions). I wonder how the present comparison would be affected by a calculation of (for instance) how much it would cost to move by plane the freight currently carried by trains.

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Last! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28246589)

Last post... so far...

Re:Last! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28246599)


Dead Great Grandmother!!!!1 (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28246593)

I fucked your dead great grandmother on a train and on a plane!

Re:Dead Great Grandmother!!!!1 (-1, Offtopic)

DriedClexler (814907) | more than 5 years ago | (#28246793)

Enough is enough! I have had it with these great-grandmother-fuckin' trolls on this great-grandmother-fuckin' plane!

Re:Dead Great Grandmother!!!!1 (-1, Offtopic)

creimer (824291) | more than 5 years ago | (#28246833)

If my grandmother had wheels, she would be a wagon.

FIRST POST (-1, Troll)

LinuxLlama (1164505) | more than 5 years ago | (#28246597)


Re:FIRST POST (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28246629)


I'll take the one with fewer niggers (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28246615)

I'll take whichever form of transportation has the fewest niggers.

Airplanes have few niggers, presumably because porch monkeys don't fly.

Blimps maybe? (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28246635)

I can see the logic that large airships which are held aloft passively by lighter than air gases, requiring fuel only for movement being economical, but it might be different with standard planes which require fuel to generate lift.

Yes, rail travel requires resources of iron and such to lay down infrastructure, but that infrastructure is used and maintained for many years and pays off over the long haul. Once down, a diesel locomotive can move immense amounts of cargo for a lot less per mile than other modes of transportation, so it should balance out.

There is the cost of regulations too. An aircraft has a large amount of money put in due to upkeep, far more than a diesel locomotive requires. This isn't to say that a locomotive is completely maintenance free, but it can go a lot more miles than a plane can before requiring service.

Finally, there is the amount of cargo a plane carries versus a train. For example, a $150,000 plane usually can carry less than a $15,000 pickup truck.

Re:Blimps maybe? (2, Interesting)

Alex Belits (437) | more than 5 years ago | (#28246743)


Prices of resources are set by people based on idea of those resources' availability, and impact of their usage on the rest of society. It's obvious that with CURRENT availability of resources in US and CURRENT level of environmental protection, the all-around best mode of transportation is Ford Expedition carrying one driver. The problem is, if you try to scale this to the whole society, you will choke everyone or run out of oil long before you will run out of hard drives in Federal Reserve to keep the records of the issued credit.

Re:Blimps maybe? (0)

socsoc (1116769) | more than 5 years ago | (#28246767)

A cargo plane could haul a lot more than half a cord of wood, where a pickup truck cannot. While I am not sure what kind of plane $150k will get you, I imagine something deemed a cargo plane will carry a lot more than even a full-size extended bed pickup.

Re:Blimps maybe? (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28246881)

Prices for aircraft are insanely high. Helicopters even more so. A $300,000 4 passenger cessna 172 will have a useful load of around 800lbs. This includes fuel, passengers and luggage/cargo.

For around $2 million you can get a cessna 208, with a 4000lb useful load.

Re:Blimps maybe? (1)

crazyjimmy (927974) | more than 5 years ago | (#28246891)

A $150k plane, at a guess, would be a two-seater (I was wrong, you can get a 4 seater.). Something like a Cessna. Here, lemmie actually check...

The best answer to this Yahoo Question [] (not really a great source, I know, but good enough for /.) lists a Cessna 182 [] @ 150k

This wouldn't be able to carry as much as a pick-up. It would probably match up to your average sedan, though. :P


Re:Blimps maybe? (1)

fishbowl (7759) | more than 5 years ago | (#28246917)

>While I am not sure what kind of plane $150k will get you

You could get a Cessna 182 with about 1000 airframe hours on it.

If you really had to, you could carry about 1,100 pounds including yourself and your passengers.
You'd be painfully aware of this load while flying.

>I imagine something deemed a cargo plane

Say, a Boeing 737 for 20-50 million, and a few million a year for maintenance?

>will carry a lot more than even a full-size extended bed pickup.

Of course it will. But $50 million is a fleet of tractor-trailer rigs and a network of warehouses and fuel depots. Not only can you carry more capacity, but you can get your payload between arbitrary points A&B far more efficiently than a plane.

Re:Blimps maybe? (1)

socsoc (1116769) | more than 5 years ago | (#28246937)

Thats what I was thinking, so why the hell did he refer to cargo planes and then mention a $150k plane?

Re:Blimps maybe? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28247449)

Probably for the same reason he mentioned a $15k pickup truck while referring to trains.

Re:Blimps maybe? (4, Insightful)

ThePromenader (878501) | more than 5 years ago | (#28247445)

In order to get a complete model of what costs what economically/environment-wise, one must include in their calculation every aspect of a mode of transportation, everything from the energy/cost/pollution needed to create the transportation through its maintenance and management, and not only the energy/pollution needed for the completed mode of transport per se.

For example, most all trains here (France) run on electric power, but most electric power is generated in nuclear power plants, but the creation of the latter required X amount of fossil fuels (mining, construction equipment, other forms of transport for materials and nuclear fuel). So if I wanted to compare this model to, say, air travel, I would have to measure the consumption/pollution created by plane production and plane fuel, and study not just the consumption/transport capabilites of the plane itself.

Re:Blimps maybe? (5, Interesting)

Runaway1956 (1322357) | more than 5 years ago | (#28246867)

Correct. The study is obviously flawed, economically speaking. In a real life study done years ago, trains moved freight for about 7 cents per ton/mile, and trucks moved the same freight for about 28 cents per ton/mile. As I recall, that included investment in tractor/locomotive and trailer/railcars, but did NOT include the highway/rail infrastructure.

Obviously, MOST people and corporations moving freight find that rail and truck are both more economical than air - witness the fact that millions of tons of freight roll down the tracks and the highways each and every night, whereas air freight is reserved for small, high priority shipments. (In fact, shipping by truck is often faster than shipping by air, but I won't go into that here)

If we were to build fleets of aircraft like the Hercules to move our groceries around the continent that demanded high quality aviation fuel (JP-5 or whatever it is they use) the cost of ALL fuels would increase because the refineries would simply shift their methods to yield more JP-5 and less diesel fuel and gasoline.

And, in the end, those planes would still be emitting pollutants, probably worse than what we are doing right now. Not to mention, the trucks would still be around to get the groceries from the airport to the market.

Re:Blimps maybe? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28247029)

One small note, commercial jet fuel is basically plain ol' kerosene.

Re:Blimps maybe? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28247073)

I'm not well versed at all in transport logistics. If you have nothing better to do, I think I would be quite interested in a discussion on why truck transport of material is often faster than air transport. And I'm sure I'm not the only one who read your comment and thought, "Hmm, interesting!"

Re:Blimps maybe? (3, Interesting)

Mwahaha (824185) | more than 5 years ago | (#28247205)

The letter refers to moving people not freight (I think, I can't find it in the journal). The commuter trains weight is dominated by the rolling stock which has to be accelerated after each stop making it far less efficient than for freight.

I've done some quick calculations in the past and come to the same conclusions more or less. The CO2 emitted per person per mile by planes, fairly full light rail and efficient cars is remarkably similar. I guess this isn't too surprising since the total cost per mile (for people) is also similar. Carpooling makes driving fairly environmentally friendly compared to rail. By far the most green form of transport is a full bus, but that doesn't happen often, especially where I live in LA.

The bigger problem with planes is that this is all per mile and you can travel 8000 miles in a day - equivalent to most peoples years commute.

Re:Blimps maybe? (1)

uid7306m (830787) | more than 5 years ago | (#28247399)

Yeah, except that rail isn't cheap for passengers. Here in the UK, you can fly to the South of France for the price of a rail ticket to Scotland. (I.e. On rail, it costs about GBP100 = US$160 to go 350 miles.)

If rail is so efficient for passengers (it presumably *is* for bulk freight) why ain't it cheap?

Certainly rail's fuel costs are small, but what about the carbon costs of all those guys standing around in fluorescent yellow vests?

Re:Blimps maybe? (1)

kcbnac (854015) | more than 5 years ago | (#28247473)

Subsidies? I know here in the US, after the 2001.09.11 attack, we helped out the airlines - and I know some not insignificant portion of their expenses (airports and associated structures, staff, etc) isn't paid by the airlines, but by the local community (taxes, surcharges on flights, or state/federal gov't) - I don't know how much of rail is funded that way.

Also, air travel is much more "common" and thus they have the benefits of the economies of scale. (Millions versus hundreds of thousands of passengers daily, or maybe an even greater variance between the two)

Get more people to ride the train, the price will (most likely) come down over time.

Re:Blimps maybe? (2, Interesting)

polar red (215081) | more than 5 years ago | (#28247495)

If rail is so efficient for passengers (it presumably *is* for bulk freight) why ain't it cheap?

because kerosene is not taxed

Re:Blimps maybe? (2, Interesting)

RoFLKOPTr (1294290) | more than 5 years ago | (#28246883)

For example, a $150,000 plane usually can carry less than a $15,000 pickup truck.

That's because any plane you find for $150,000 isn't designed to carry more than a couple people and their luggage. A cargo plane costs a few million dollars, but it can carry a few $15,000 pickups and their cargo. But anyway, this article isn't about money, it's about emissions. I can assure you that a plane will use far less fuel to carry a full load 2000 miles than a pickup would.

And as for people comparing planes to cargo trains... that's also not what the article is about. Of course a cargo train can carry more a longer distance for lower cost..... and that's why they're used far more often for everything from chemicals to materials to packages than planes. They're talking about passengers. For passengers, it's more environmentally-friendly to ride a plane than a train for distances more than a few hundred miles.

Future in the middle (1)

copponex (13876) | more than 5 years ago | (#28247035)

I wonder if the future is full of "semi" airships. With a small onboard fuel supply and a generator, and a load of solar panels on top with electric engines powering some props, couldn't they get something to move at highway speeds, but in a straight line?

No runway, low altitude, and very green if you can come up with a lifecycle for all of the parts.

Re:Future in the middle (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28247573)

With a small onboard fuel supply and a generator, and a load of solar panels on top with electric engines powering some props, couldn't they get something to move at highway speeds, but in a straight line?

No, not with any technology that resembles our current ones. The fuel supply just won't be small...

Re:Blimps maybe? (3, Insightful)

wisty (1335733) | more than 5 years ago | (#28246889)

How about taxing carbon emissions, and letting the market figure things out?

If that's not good enough because people cheat by importing materials from China, then you can tax the "embodied emissions" (i.e. the estimated tax that should have been payed) at the border. You could give a symmetric tax refund to exporters, based on the same sort of estimate.

I'm suggesting using a top down estimate, based on materials in the import / export rather than a paper-trail based rebate. Otherwise people will fudge their paperwork ... and try to push all their emissions taxes into exportable goods via accounting tricks to get a rebate.

Re:Blimps maybe? (1)

timeOday (582209) | more than 5 years ago | (#28247093)

How about taxing carbon emissions, and letting the market figure things out?

Any calculation of the long-term costs of carbon emissions will be heavily dependent on assumptions and subjective judgments, such as what people in the future will do vs what they would have done if we did something different, what new technologies will come along, how much to weight future vs. current costs, and how to weight costs to ourselves vs costs that will accrue to others (e.g. "we can affordably commute 100 miles each way to work" vs. "small island nations thousands of miles away are completely submerged."

Now, some would say all that means we should do nothing - i.e. value the future costs of pollution at $0. I certainly don't think that's reasonable. But it's not as if there's some simple, objective solution to this problem. It's bound to be a heavily political process.

Re:Blimps maybe? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28246955)

Who gives a damn which releases more CO2? The whole greenhouse thing is a crock dreamed up by the Europeans and Japanese because they used all their coal already and own all the patents for nuclear power generation. Deforestation is the real issue and it's getting ignored because of the carbon nonsense.

Re:Blimps maybe? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28247161)

What about this.... "This is from Gary Sease, a CSX spokesman:

        On average, railroads can move one ton of freight 423 miles on one gallon of fuel. This is a rail industry statistic calculated by dividing the 2006 annual revenue ton miles (1.772 trillion) by the fuel consumed (4.192 billion), which equates to the industry average of one ton of freight 423 miles on one gallon of fuel. (The 2006 data was the last full year for which total industry data are available.)
        Revenue ton miles are those miles for which railroads are compensated for moving freight. (We move empty cars to reposition them, and we move company materials for which we are not compensated). The industry did not include fuel consumed by passenger trains -- just freight trains."

Re:Blimps maybe? (2, Interesting)

westlake (615356) | more than 5 years ago | (#28247329)

Yes, rail travel requires resources of iron and such to lay down infrastructure, but that infrastructure is used and maintained for many years and pays off over the long haul.

You have to build the road anyway.

Rail is very good at moving bulk freight. The mile long unit train that shuttles back and forth from the coal mine to the power plant.

Breaking bulk - dropping off a boxcar for the occasional pickup at every local factory, every rural hamlet, reaching deep into the inner city - that's hard.

Re:Blimps maybe? (1)

thefringthing (1502177) | more than 5 years ago | (#28247337)

*checks watch* ZEPPELIN!

Re:Blimps maybe? (1)

rolfwind (528248) | more than 5 years ago | (#28247565)

I can see the logic that large airships which are held aloft passively by lighter than air gases, requiring fuel only for movement being economical, but it might be different with standard planes which require fuel to generate lift.

Lighter than air has several problems.

One, two lift something, the balloon part has to be very big in comparison. It will never replace rail moving cars upons cars of freight.

Two, helium will get very expensive. Unless you want to go with flammable hydrogen, which at least has the benefit of greater lifting power. But having watched mythbusters, it wasn't really the skin that set it ablaze....

Three, ground crew. The Hindenburg needed dozens to hundreds of ground crew (luckily, they always had volunteers). Zeppelins/Dirigibles/Blimps are not good in windy conditions and on landing you always need extra precaution. Lockheed Martin and others designed heavier than air blimps that get 80% lift from a lighter-than-air gas and the other 20% through aerodynamic flight, eliminating the need for ground crew in a smart and cool way (but how much can it lift?) [] []

Anyway, this report is BS. Government reports have long shown that train is much cheaper than truck is much cheaper than air.

Planes help wildlife (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28246645)

As we saw recently in Brazil, airplanes make great fish-food dispensers. French cuisine, mai oui!

The best analysis (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28246677)

The best analysis is the one run in the real world, in real time, called the market.

Re:The best analysis (5, Interesting)

Planesdragon (210349) | more than 5 years ago | (#28246851)

No, it's not.

The market will tell you what is the correct cost of USING a plane or a train RIGHT NOW. It doesn't reflect any sunk costs whatsoever, nor will it reflect future costs or non-immediate costs not mandated by law.

By way of analogy: the market tells the farmer what crops people will buy. It does not tell him what crops will keep his farmland sustainable unto his children's time.

Re:The best analysis (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28247369)

Al Gore definitely doesn't know whats best for our children's time...

Re:The best analysis (5, Insightful)

harlows_monkeys (106428) | more than 5 years ago | (#28247313)

The best analysis is the one run in the real world, in real time, called the market

Utter nonsense. Markets provably do not find the best solution, because they don't take into account externalities. (Also for the reasons Planesdragon pointed out).

Planes greener than trains, no way (4, Interesting)

Dasher42 (514179) | more than 5 years ago | (#28246679)

The very fact that airliners leave their exhaust directly at or near the stratosphere should tell you something. After that, their contrails seed clouds which have an impact on the weather which I can't generalize on here. This reminds me of a study on embodied energy in cities; people were questioning the impact of making all those buildings, but it comes out that the high level of re-use by a densely packed population makes cities a much greener choice for the bulk of the human race.

Re:Planes greener than trains, no way (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28246749)

Whoever modded this as "troll" is an idiot. Mod parent up!

Re:Planes greener than trains, no way (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28246985)

Exhaust contrails are primarily water vapor, and for most practical purposes are clouds. Although water vapor is a GHG, and a far more potent one than the evil CO2, when in cloud form water actually causes a net reduction to the Earth's temperature because clouds reflect sunlight away from the Earth. This is a frequently cited problem with climate modeling; those who write the models frequently admit they do not know enough about cloud formation (and even if they did, the programs would not have enough resolution) to accurately depict the atmosphere.

Re:Planes greener than trains, no way (3, Interesting)

moosesocks (264553) | more than 5 years ago | (#28247427)

Ironically, the smog/clouds formed by these airliners masks the sun's output sufficiently to slightly offset global warming (a phenomenon known as global dimming).

Granted, aircraft produce plenty of greenhouse gases that do contribute to long-term climate change. The solution to global warming isn't to fly more planes.

We've actually got a reasonably good set of data to support this hypothesis from the flight ban during the days following 9/11. No planes were in the sky, and it was unusually warm and sunny across the country.

And the NS is full of: (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28246687)

Bull crap...

Upfront Costs always Greater (1)

Stoned4Life (926494) | more than 5 years ago | (#28246707)

Well if you think about it just about any innovative technology is going to have extremely high costs up front. Energy efficient cars are only slowly coming down in costs because demand is finally climbing high enough. These overall costs discussed are rather skewed towards existing technologies because of course, mass producing a couple tracks is rather easy now. Think about running those lines a hundred years ago where it was all done by laborers crafting steel.

Re:Upfront Costs always Greater (3, Interesting)

mattwarden (699984) | more than 5 years ago | (#28246779)

I don't understand your point. Are you suggesting that commercial plane production benefits from economies of scale? To some degree, sure, but I don't think you can really call it mass production in the same way that we talk about it with other transportation methods.

Re:Upfront Costs always Greater (4, Insightful)

RuBLed (995686) | more than 5 years ago | (#28246837)

... and you forgot to mention something important. Trains are COOL!

Bull. (2, Interesting)

thaddeusthudpucker (1082657) | more than 5 years ago | (#28246737)

So what TFA says is that electric trains are only green if the power is generated by non-fossil fuels. Take for example the Portland MAX, whose power is generated by wind farms. (at least they pay for their power to be generated by a wind farm.) This makes the MAX WAAAY green.

Re:Bull. (1)

ChunderDownunder (709234) | more than 5 years ago | (#28247151)

I think that's an important issue about sustainability. Trains may be powered through renewable electricity sources or biodiesel but at high altitudes synthetic aviation fuel freezes, or so I read somewhere.

I think we better jolly well find a replacement for jumbo fuel or cheap air travel will be a thing of the past once oil rationing hits. :(

Re:Bull. (3, Insightful)

Repossessed (1117929) | more than 5 years ago | (#28247163)

No it isn't. Green energy is limited right now. Using wind farms to power trains means the wind farms can't power homes, and extra fossil fuels get burned for those.

(Still better than the cars the train system makes unnecessary though).

Re:Bull. (1)

calidoscope (312571) | more than 5 years ago | (#28247321)

There's a significant difference in brown-ness from generating electricity with fossil fuels. A state of the art natural gas fired combined cycle plant will produce a lot less CO2 per kWhr than an aging coal fired plant.

This subject has been covered much better on the forums with some very detailed explanations of why LD rail travel may not be as green as expected.

Some things just aren't meant to fly. (3, Informative)

MrClever (70766) | more than 5 years ago | (#28246769)

Not to mention many forms of freight cannot be carried by air at all, and others have extreme restrictions on the amounts that can be carried in a single air consignment. As IATA [] say, "some things just aren't meant to fly" - like pyrotechnic security attache cases [] for example (sorry Mr. Bond, you'll have to send that by road/rail/boat).

Re:Some things just aren't meant to fly. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28247477)

Other things not meant to fly: crude oil.

Which occasionally disapponted me when playing TTD (/OpenTTD), when I found that I couldn't refit the 747 to take oil and service the one liitle oil well out in the middle of nowhere and just drop it off at the airport where the goods were flying from anyway.

Ah well.

Union Pacific Railroad (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28246775)

I live adjacent to the Union Pacific mainline east/west. Even in this recession, the freight trains are running continuously 24 hours per day. This line is extremely busy. The tonnage which these trains carry is staggering.

There is no way airplanes could move that much freight. We would have to expand the air fleet (and air infrastructure) 100-fold or more to even make a dent in what is handled by our national rail capacity.

City planning (5, Insightful)

j. andrew rogers (774820) | more than 5 years ago | (#28246777)

This research is essentially stating that what is and is not "green" transportation is significantly dependent on the context of the layout of the region it is located in. This should be obvious but it is not hard to find people that think forcing everyone into the same transportation options regardless of objective context is sound environmental policy. Or in other words, attempting to force people to be "green" often generates more pollution than doing nothing at all, and if you do not change the underlying equilibrium that created the original distribution you will just piss people off as a bonus to your non-accomplishment.

The sad truth is that most American cities are ill-suited to public transportation at the fundamental design level. It would be like trying to make MS-DOS function as an enterprise server environment, the impedance mismatch is extreme. You can't hack an effective and economic public transportation system onto them, and taking a wrecking ball to three-quarters of the American landscape would be expensive beyond belief for a very modest benefit -- you would see more pollution reduction by simply shutting down coal power plants and building nuclear power plants. You have to build the green cities before you can demand people live in them, but for some reason politicians often seem to get that backward.

Even though I am all for green cities, punishing people who live in car-only suburbs is a non-solution because for the most part Americans have no practical choice but to live in such places. For some reason, the same people that refuse to allow the building of green cities as a matter of policy (or at a minimum show a complete lack of political will to propose such things) have no problem coming up with punishments for not living in cities they would not allow to be built. It is a bipartisan failing, even the extreme "environmental progressives" that control the politics where I live rabidly oppose any city development that does not look an awful lot like crappy suburban sprawl.

hey! (1)

Gravis Zero (934156) | more than 5 years ago | (#28246815)

stop trying to thwart our green outlook with your logical analysis of the real world! you are really going to bum out the protesters.

Re:hey! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28246993)

Actually, I think what the parent is saying is that it's not just important to look at what's green (in absolute terms). You have to look at what's greener than what you have now and how you get there from where you are now.

If I'm not mistaken, the poster is all for greener solutions, but greener solutions that are always an incremental change on top of what you already have.

Basically, offering smarts in the US is useless because nobody would drive them. Offering hybrid midsize SUVs makes sense. Yes, we could do better, but then nobody would buy into it and you'd just end up with a backlash from the population.

Re:City planning (1)

dbcad7 (771464) | more than 5 years ago | (#28247079)

Most US cities have some form of public transportation, mostly bus.. but some intercity rail.. The real problem isn't on the design of cities, it's that there has been zero investment in connecting cities by rail. Even connecting to the outskirts, such as many airports would be something. My own limited Amtrak experience, is that it sucks.. what is a 2 hour drive by car, takes 5 hours.. They stop at small nothing towns that often don't make sense.. They should stick to the major cities, offering bus connections and speed things up so that people don't feel stupid traveling by train.

Re:City planning (5, Interesting)

moosesocks (264553) | more than 5 years ago | (#28247501)

The sad truth is that most American cities are ill-suited to public transportation at the fundamental design level.

Maybe we need to rethink the way we plan cities. Suburban-oriented development needs to stop NOW. We don't have the space or the resources to support it. There's no reason why we can't change our zoning laws to encourage new development to be constructed in a more practical fashion.

Many recently constructed suburbs (ie. anything around DC) don't even offer the typical advantages that the suburban lifestyle promised. Houses are crammed onto tiny lots in a traffic-congested area that provides no businesses or services within walking distance. It is literally the worst-case scenario.

The "insufficient" population density argument is bullshit. New Jersey has a higher population density than all of the European states and Japan, and yet most of the state has zero access to a public transportation system that will deliver them somewhere other than New York or Philadelphia. I lived in a rural Scottish town for a short while that had public transportation options that were lightyears better than anything I can get living in NJ, just across the river from NYC.

France has one of the best high-speed rail networks in the world (and has had it since the 70s). Most of France is extremely rural, and yet the TGV system provides access to a huge portion of the country. The eastern seaboard of the US has 4 major cities arranged in a straight line, and we somehow can't figure out how to provide reasonable rail transportation between them. The Acela is barely faster than driving, and costs 10x as much.

I lived in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia for a while, and attempted to do my commute via public transportation at first. Geographically, the area is composed of a narrow peninsula (~10-15 miles wide) connecting Richmond to Virginia Beach. The 60mi stretch from Williamsburg to VB is very densely populated. The situation practically cries for a commuter rail line down the peninsula, with a few well-placed bus routes around the urban centers. Instead, we have numerous 4-lane traffic-clogged highways, and the world's most disjointed bus network. My fairly straightforward commute to work (25 minutes by car, basically on one road) took over 2 hours by bus.

It's often said that only poor people ride the bus. In the case of Hampton Roads, I was tempted to believe that the people on the bus were poor because they never got to work on time.

The naysayers are wrong. The US isn't terribly special. We CAN fix this. Yes, we've made a few bad urban planning decisions over the past 40 years, although much of the rest of the world made those same mistakes.

The costs are justified. The economy can't survive another prolonged $5/gal gas spike. Fixing the means by which transportation works in America is far more important than any war we're fighting (and coincidentally, would have prevented the one we're currently embroiled in)

Other benefits (2, Interesting)

TastyCakes (917232) | more than 5 years ago | (#28246789)

To me, it seems transportation by trains has benefits that extend well beyond how much energy they use. For example, being able to use electricity generated in any way, rather than being dependent on av-gas, provides a stability and flexibility that planes just can't. While coal may be an ugly way to make power, for America, its supply is certainly more dependable than oil looking forward. Also, being able to reach into the centre of big cities provides a big convenience factor, in my opinion. And trains would seem to be safer (at least in properly made and maintained, grade separated systems).

Freight trains are still greener, though. (4, Interesting)

MtViewGuy (197597) | more than 5 years ago | (#28246797)

If you're talking current infrastructure, freight trains are still WAY more environmentally friendly than trucks.

Remember, you only need four modern 4,000 bhp diesel-electric locomotives to pull 180 loaded 53" trailers, not 180 trucks spewing WAY more exhaust emissions (assuming each truck has about 400 bhp pulling power).

The problem with airplanes is that because so much of the structure is needed for aerodynamic lift, the result is a much lower freight load per pound of structure compared to a freight train. That's why interest in super large lighter-than-air vehicles have never completely waned, since they could carry a lot of load per pound of structure.

Easy to tell too (2, Interesting)

Sycraft-fu (314770) | more than 5 years ago | (#28246855)

By the fact that they are still used all the time. Freight trains are slow for moving things since there's lots of load/unload time, and you don't get to chose the routing as precisely as by truck. It is the kind of thing that survives only because it is so cheap. It is likely to get even better too, what with hybrid locomotives. All locomotives are electric drive these days. There is just no way to make the kind of transmission you'd need to provide the torque needed to move that thing. Thus you use electric motors, which have 100% torque from the word go. The engine drives a generator which powers the motors.

Ok well not at all hard to add in some batteries to that and a regenerative breaking system. Unlike an automobile where the motors are additional, you just add this in to the existing power system. What's more, locomotives already have to have weight added to them, so unlike a car where the additional weight is undesirable, you just swap out the dead weights for batteries.

GE has a line of hybrid locomotives out and they seem to do real well.

So I'm betting we will continue to see trucks loaded on to trains, shipped to where they need to go, then unloaded for the final journey. It is inconvenient, but when hauling freight it just doesn't get any more economical on land and low shipping cost is the name of the game when large amounts are in question.

Same deal as the massive super freighter ships. You look at their engines and they are massive, some of them take a whole barrel of fuel oil per firing of a piston. However, when you run the math on the amount they carry, you discover they are efficient beyond anything else.

Convenience, cost, and possibly speed at times (1)

phorm (591458) | more than 5 years ago | (#28247395)

Cheap is one factor, and there's also convenience. With infrastructure in mind, trains are the only really sane choice for various types of shipments. Just imagine constantly shipping millions of tons of product back-and-forth across the country?

In the cost factor we have the vehicles themselves, the speed of travel, the congestion, the existing infrastructure, etc.

To do that all by truck would involve a *LOT* of weight. That means special roads, which involves a lot of time to build. -1 convenience for time and -1 for cost.

Then there's the number of "trailers" a truck can haul VS a train. Could you imagine a "B-train" (road-train) with 10-30 trailers? Navigation on open road VS fixed track, steep hills (even with the biggest truck out there), and poor road conditions would make it improbably if not outright impossible. Not to mention the congestion involved.

There simply isn't any other combination of infrastructure and vehicle, even with a boatload of cash, that could be built anytime soon to handle over-land transportation the way a train does. If we one day manage to build antigravity it's a possible, but until then I say trains are here to stay.

For that matter, improving and adding to rail lines between core cities might also make a lot economic sense if done right. I'm Canadian so there's a whole lot of open space here (and in the US) to cross, but perhaps if we focused newer construction technologies and vehicles at the task then perhaps the short-term costs could mean long-term gains. Unfortunately when you have a 4-year turnover no political party would ever likely touch the idea, as the debt taken on in the "now" doesn't stack up against the possibility of their opponents being in power at completion (if not nixing the idea partway through).

Re:Easy to tell too (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28247411)

You're using the term "hybrid" for locomitives as if it were something new. Even the early diesel locomotive prototypes of the 1910s had this design. Hence the proper term: Diesel Electric. These have been in use for 70 years.

The first part of regenerative braking, running the electric motors backwards to generate electricity, is already done too. If you look at a locomotive from above you'll see a series of exhaust fans. That electricity is turned into heat and pumped out the top. Trains are heavy ass things and you'd need immense batteries for them to be any use in getting a train back up to speed. Even then a train doesn't stop very often so your small gain for starting up would have to cover the loss of hauling many more tons of dead weight once up to speed. Not to mention the extra cost of maintenance and up front cost. It just isn't beneficial.

A better use of regenerative braking is for all electric trains which can use the entire grid as a battery. But the US is too big and too sparse to use electrified lines except in urban areas.

Re:Easy to tell too (1)

rolfwind (528248) | more than 5 years ago | (#28247511)

By the fact that they are still used all the time. Freight trains are slow for moving things since there's lots of load/unload time, and you don't get to chose the routing as precisely as by truck.

This is really too bad. Imagine the fuel/road repair (trucks cause 200x more damage than average car) we could be saving if they could make trains so efficient as to relegate trucks as last mile/last leg part of the journey and train as the majority to the point you would hardly see a cross country truck anymore.

Now, I know trains don't currently support stuff like refrigeration and someone told me because of the unions, freight trains don't go Sundays (true?), but there really has to be a cheap technological way to overcome all that. Heck, with containers so standardized and with robotics, loading and unloading something like that should become the least of it. And supporting refridgeration shouldn't be that big of a deal.

It would seem the railroads could make a ton of money off this, but the devil is always in the details.

Re:Easy to tell too (1)

moosesocks (264553) | more than 5 years ago | (#28247533)

It is likely to get even better too, what with hybrid locomotives.

Erm. Not quite. Diesel-electric hybrids have been in use for just about as long as diesel locomotives have been around. There are only a handful of diesels (all historic) that weren't hybrids.

Re:Freight trains are still greener, though. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28247097)

The key is that diesel engines get more efficient as they scale up. This is why 1-2 diesel engines on a rail can pull so much compared to 400 semis.

I wouldn't be caught dead in a plane... (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28246801)

...unless it was Air France A330.

Too soon?

What matters is the additional cost *you* incur (3, Informative)

physicsphairy (720718) | more than 5 years ago | (#28246829)

While this study seems a much better reflection of the total (environmental) cost of each type of transportation, it's important to remember that the marginal cost of you buying a plain ticket or driving your car is not necessarily proportional to the total cost.

For example, to drive one car across the continent may require a massive investment of infrastructure to create a suitable road, but if that road is already there, the infrastructure cost of driving a second car on the same road is essentially zero: you aren't buying any additional infrastructure because of the second car.

I honestly can't imagine ever doing away with our network of highways, regardless of any increase in the popularity of air travel, so a large portion of that infrastructure cost may have nothing to do with whether you personally choose to drive instead of fly. The innercity roads are also a permanent feature: it's not like the plane is going to drop you off at your apartment complex.

Re:What matters is the additional cost *you* incur (2, Insightful)

TroyM (956558) | more than 5 years ago | (#28246943)

But at some point, the addition of enough cars means you have to widen the highway, or build a totally new highway. Don't know about where you live, they're constantly building new roads here, and there's a cost for that.

There's also a cost to maintain the roads. And cars driving over those roads do damage that has to be repaired. Large trucks cause much more damage.

In both cases, it's hard to see that adding just one more car means a new road has to be built, or and section of road has to be repaired, But it eventually adds up.

Re:What matters is the additional cost *you* incur (1)

644bd346996 (1012333) | more than 5 years ago | (#28247195)

I've always heard from highway engineers that the damage caused by cars is negligible compared to that from large trucks and weather. It would seem that on interstate-quality highways, the worst cars can do is further erode existing potholes.

Mother nature doesn't like the roads (1)

phorm (591458) | more than 5 years ago | (#28247423)

Locally (Canada) frost-heaves in winter and then erosion in spring count for a significant amount of road damage. The frozen ground pushes up underneath the roads and causes them to crack, then resettles as things warm up. Meanwhile melting causes flows of ground-water that can undermine roads, or wash away parts of them in a mudslide/landslide.

Then you get other fun things like vegetation which can slowly but surely take out sidewalks and streets with creeping roots, floods, floating trees damaging bridges, debris on tracks causing derailments, and moose kicking up concrete.

OK, just joking about the moose, but the rest are pretty common events which necessitate a regular cycle of road patching, repair, and replacement.

I actually wonder what the cost is of maintaining tracks VS roads.

Re:What matters is the additional cost *you* incur (1)

physicsphairy (720718) | more than 5 years ago | (#28247341)

That is quite true, but my point is not to disregard the general maintenance and service cost that each car incurs. My point is that a certain quantity of that cost exists entirely independent of the cars vs. planes argument, and therefore has no bearing on whether you should decide to take a plane instead of car.

At our present level of technology interstate roads or railroads will continue to be maintained as a strategic asset even if virtually all commercial travel moves to airplanes, so you don't get to pretend like you save on the entire road construction budget if you switch to airplanes. (Not to mention that being able to economically fly passengers to an airport is not the same as air dropping a tractor on a farm, or retrieving it again for maintenance.)

Besides that, some ground transportation infrastructure simply *cannot* be effectively replaced by air transportation, such as that which is found in the hub of major urban centers. A jumbo jet can't reasonably take you from your apartment on Maple street to your friend's house downtown (and using a helicopter squanders all of the environmental and cost efficiency improvements). So including this infrastructure cost in your cars/buses/trains vs. planes analysis is as silly as saying "beanie babies are cheaper than dialysis machines, therefore we should buy beanie babies instead."

If you can't substitute one for the other, then you also can't talk about "saving" by switching from one to the other.

I'm still not saying that the conclusion of the study is wrong. It sounds quite reasonable to me that flying should have the potential to produce less inherent pollution than driving, especially over long distances. But what I am saying is that the study is wrong if it thinks that all infrastructure cost should be included in the total cost of commercial transport when the infrastructure has certain non-commercial value as well, and it is wrong if its comparison of infrastructure is not restricted to types of infrastructure which are directly substitutable.

Prius vs Hummer Report was load of crap (5, Informative)

KeithIrwin (243301) | more than 5 years ago | (#28246859)

As someone who has read the report (instead of just read articles which summarized it) I can definitively say that that report was, is, and always will be a load of crap.

First off, that report came from a marketing firm, not a serious research organization. Since when are marketing firms experts on lifetime costs.

Secondly, their estimates were that the bulk of the energy costs for each of these cars was in the cost of recycling and/or disposing of the cars. Specifically, for the Prius, a $20,000 car, they estimated that it would take over $100,000 worth of energy to recycle or dispose of it.

Right off, that doesn't pass the simple common-sense test. If it costs $100,000 to recycle or dispose of a Prius, then who is going to be paying that? For all of the cars on the road, they estimated that disposal and/or recycling would cost at least tens of thousands of dollars. Which is to say, if the report is to be believed, scrap yards are all operating at gargantuan loses, since, generally most of them will pay you for your car rather than charge you to haul it away.

My best guess as to the justification of their lunacy is that they're assuming that all of the plastics in a vehicle will be somehow incinerated at some huge temperature or something (rather than simply put in a landfill, which costs way less energy) and they've slipped a digit or two somewhere. But in the end, it's impossible to judge because although they claim to have some very specific break-downs which justify their numbers for each category of the life-cycle, those break-downs are only available if you spend several thousand dollars to purchase the complete version of the report from them.

Re:Prius vs Hummer Report was load of crap (1, Insightful)

Kenja (541830) | more than 5 years ago | (#28246971)

So you're saying that all these Prius cars on the street where sold at a 80,000$ loss? Because Toyota recycles the batteries for free and in fact claims to make a profit doing so.

However, if you really want to drive "green" you wont get a new car but a used econo box.

Does it make sense... (2, Interesting)

evilsofa (947078) | more than 5 years ago | (#28246861)

Does it make sense to, for example, haul coal on planes? I don't believe you can replace trains with planes, or planes with trains.

Re:Does it make sense... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28246961)

Or you can get both in one with....ASTROTRAIN!

Environmental Research Letters? (5, Informative)

e9th (652576) | more than 5 years ago | (#28246953)

Is ERL for real? Is it customary nowadays for journals to charge [] $1900 to to publish an article?

Re:Environmental Research Letters? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28247349)

For those too lazy to RTFA, the original research was published in Environmental Research Letters [] .

the only thing that is really made of "green" (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28247003)

is my marijuana cigarette with 2 grams of cannabis rolled up by cheap cigar paper. also known in the streets as a "blunt".

this is a sentence for the blunted, use linux for it is created by god!

Anonymous Coward (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28247013)

Anonymous Coward here, pointing out FAIL.

The article regarding the trains is dealing with the emission of greenhouse gasses. The Prius article and timothy both talk about costs (how much money it takes). Emission of greenhouse gasses is not the same as how much money it takes to produce and use something.

If you don't understand what I'm talking about, that is ok. The government does not want you to be smart enough to understand that. Otherwise, our school systems wouldn't suck.

Signing off.

the money line that I'm sure we can pick apart (1)

Raleel (30913) | more than 5 years ago | (#28247041)

from TFA:

Cars emitted more than any other form of transport with the notable exception of off-peak buses, which often carry few passengers. Passengers on the Boston light rail, an electric commuter train, were found to emit as much or marginally more than those on mid-size and large aircraft. This is because 82 per cent of electricity in Massachusetts is generated by burning fossil fuels.

So, if you are burning lots of fossil fuels to run your light rail, then yes, it is like a coal fired plane :)

TFA also talks about building trains into major population centers to eliminate the need for infrastructure for cars to _get_ to the train. It also talks about how trains have a different power problem than air/car/bus, and one that, honestly, I think we're a lot closer to solving.

fuCker (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28247049)

told reporters, BSD machines 3ay. It used to be Result of a quarrel a GAY NIGGER thing for the Channel, you might

In other news (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28247085)

Analysis says Spinning Heel Kick to the body more painful than Overhand Right to the face.
Conclusion: avoid Spinning Heel Kick.

Reeedeeculous number-crunching! (1)

Ancient_Hacker (751168) | more than 5 years ago | (#28247105)

It's amazing what you can do with a spreadsheet. Fudge things just right, and you can overcome a wall of facts, even a 8 times disadvantage.

But back in the real world, trains and ships can move stuff for pennies a ton-mile, at useful and quiet speeds, with very low emissions, and requiring relatively low-energy infrastructure of wood and iron.
While air transport moves stuff at a cost of almost a dollar a ton-mile, while emitting a whole lot more noise near the endpoints, and requiring a lot more ecological modification, including many square miles of flat and clearcut land for airports. Not to mention the use of huge amounts of electricity to refine the aluminum for the airframes.

Next up, these guys should prove how the optimum diet is one of steak and cherry pie. It can be done.

Re:Reeedeeculous number-crunching! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28247311)

Are you seriously implying that airports use more land than train tracks and rail yards? That constructing hundreds of airports requires more ecological modification than hundreds of thousands of miles of rail? That building airframes takes more energy than laying and maintaining train tracks (including grades, tunnels, and bridges)? You are seriously deluded. Let me also point out that while planes are loud, trains are hardly silent. But your biggest error is that we're talking about passenger travel, not freight.

What about "Killer" trains? (0, Troll)

The_Quinn (748261) | more than 5 years ago | (#28247155)

What if the train killed all its riders. Wouldn't that make make it more green?

Re:What about "Killer" trains? (0)

shentino (1139071) | more than 5 years ago | (#28247469)

The increase in energy demand caused by a boom in human population is probably what drives every other carbon emission.

However, cutting back on growth would probably leave one open to being outmanned by other countries, so like the two jailbirds in prison, it pays to defect and screw the other guy.

Tragedy of the commons.

wtf (1)

ufoolme (1111815) | more than 5 years ago | (#28247159)

Walking ftw!

Make no mistakes (5, Interesting)

Pig Hogger (10379) | more than 5 years ago | (#28247167)

Make no mistakes. Rail as an industrial transportation sector predated all (save marine) by almost a century. Initially at the hands of powerful "robber barons" (the Bill Gates of the day), rail has had the time to generate pretty powerful ennemies and longlasting resentment (witness in the canadian west, where "goddammed CPR [] " is still used as a curse, and likewise in the southwestern US where the Southern Pacific has not mucha in matters of a saint's aura). At the hands of those robber barons, rail has enjoyed a virtual monopoly on overland transportation for about a century before road and air transport managed to get off the ground, generating fortunes and attracting talent that has previously made rail the high-technology sector of it's time.

With talent gone, rail first sank into routine operation and management, and as it slowly started it's long descent into hell (the 1970's), it degraded into crisis management and deferred-maintenance and emergency patch cycles that were no match for the lobbying efforts of the road and air upstarts who had developped an ever increasing arrogance.

Case in point: when the Alaska pipeline was first proposed, Boeing seriously submitted a proposal to fly the oil in special 747-tankers, which could have brought a totally new meaning to the words "black tide"...

Still riding high on it's nouveau-riche influence, the road and air sectors do not see the brink of the collapse they are about to succumb to. First the air with the unprecedented paranoïa that followed 9/11 that brought about billions in governmental support to troubled airlines, and now the bankrupcy of General Motors that will suck even more public money in an industry that was too arrogant to see it's own pitfalls.

In the meanwhile, rail still trundles around, carrying stuff (and some people, too) around without much of a fanfare (save for whistling at crossings).

Elsewhere in the world, rail systems were either developped by the States outright, or with heavy State involvement. That heavy State involvement meant that elsewhere, people were spared the costly shenanigans of private railroads (such as duplicate lines by competing railroads, or outright purchase of competing more-efficient routes [] ), so "other" railroads were far more efficient at providing public service than their U.S. brethen, and did not generate the resentment the robber barons of the gilded age did in the U.S.

And those "other" railroads have managed to pull pretty impressive feats, such as the world's fastest scheduled passenger service [] , something U.S. railroads would be hard-pressed to manage in the hostile environment they have to deal with. It seems that the only way the U.S. can press forward with improved rail service would be following the utter collapse of other modes of transport...

costly shenanigans of private railroads (1)

phorm (591458) | more than 5 years ago | (#28247467)

I seem to remember quite a few cases cropping up after a (recently sold) railway starting sending bills to landowners for crossing into their property. Basically the railway abutted the property, and made it impossible to access without crossing the railway. As the existing crossings were owned by the new rail company, they decided to bill the landowners tens of thousands ($) each in order to be able to access their own land in the same manner they had been doing for decades.

There are many things that would greatly benefit from being public, and transportation - when done correctly - is definitely one of them. I say "when done correctly" because greedy government managers are no better than greedy private owners.

For example, see the issues with ICBC (insurance corporation of British Columbia, the monopoly vehicle insurance branch of the government) in the westernmost province. ICBC absolutely loves to screw people in accidents, because it gives them an excuse to raise premiums and take away "safe driver" discounts. Without competition, people in accidents are forced into lengthy court battles, often after being injured and while slowly burning through their own savings while unable to work. Even being found 5% at-fault is enough excuse to yank away a few years of accumulated safe-driver discounts, so they'll try to nail you for being rear-ended by a tailgater, while stopped, or equally ludicrous such things.

I'm not really sure what the answer is to that, other than perhaps a truly publicly owned corporation. Maybe if all citizens had a share (and a say) they could at least have enough power to address some of those issues, but then again when less than 50% of people even show up to vote, who knows.

propaganda (3, Insightful)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 5 years ago | (#28247229)

is always about omitting the context of a conclusion. yes, a prius is less green than a hummer, in certain contexts. yes, a train is less green than a train, in certain contexts. in a limited set of variables, you can conclude an aircraft carrier is greener than a pack mule

for example: fed 0.25 pounds of nuclear fuel, the aircraft carrier was founds to go around the planet a couple of times, while the pack mule was found dead. surely, the aircraft carrier is greener here

for example: by ability to transport aircraft to military hotspots, the aircraft carrier was found to go exactly where needed for a reasonable amount of fuel, while the pack mule merely sat there with a crushed spine

etc., etc.

along any narrow axis of any comparison, you can really say anything you want, and in fact good propaganda does this all the time. that's why it's called "half truths". they are telling you the truth, they only are omitting half of what you need to properly evaluate the value of the statement they are making

beware any "facts" you encounter on any controversial topic: gun control, the environment, islam and terrorism, etc.: lots of "facts" are not really as convincing as they appear at face value, phrased in such a way to tug at your preconceptions and subtle prejudices, instead of actually enlightening you as to any real truth

everyone needs to go into this world with a very skeptical mind, about anything you hear. unfortunately, it is actually those who are most emotionally invested in any number of controversial topics who lose that discipline, and become nothing more than blind kneejerk partisan hacks

Diesel trains? WTF? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28247317)

Why on earth would you run a train locomotive on diesel?

Oh, hang on, it's american probably and we all know how well americans understand trains.

I wonder who funded this study (2, Insightful)

hyades1 (1149581) | more than 5 years ago | (#28247381)

Another factor that wasn't considered in TFA: airports tend to be built 'way out in the country, where there aren't a lot of local residents to complain about the noise. Typically, the thousands of acres an airport needs are carved out of prime agricultural land. And if the airport is built next to a major population centre, how do you put a price on the degraded quality of life suffered by thousands of people who have to endure the constant din of landing jets roaring overhead?

I bet someone misuses the part about empty buses (2, Interesting)

harlows_monkeys (106428) | more than 5 years ago | (#28247385)

The article points out the full buses (such as during rush hour) are more efficient than mostly empty buses during off-peak hours. Unfortunately, that kind of analysis tends to be misused, leading people into looking at individual bus routes and trips on those routes when allocating resources, rather than thinking about the system as a whole.

What they overlook is that a bus saves nothing over my car if I'm taking my car, not the bus. To entice my out of my car regularly, I must be able to rely on the bus. If I take the bus, say, to go out to dinner, and then decide on a whim to catch a movie afterward, I need to be able to know, without having to stop and study a bunch of schedules, that I will be able to get a bus home shortly after the movie lets out. I need to be able to know that I can go to this corner near the theater, and within 15 minutes catch a bus home, without worrying that someone decided when I wasn't paying attention that the routes after 11pm were not cost effective and cut them.

Only by committing to a regular schedule that does not cut trips--even if a particular run of a particular route gets poor ridership for months or years--can a bus system become a real alternative to cars.

Re:I bet someone misuses the part about empty buse (1)

anagama (611277) | more than 5 years ago | (#28247567)

Aside from scheduling, the bus has to overcome the whole "ghetto on wheels" issue.

Solar flight (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28247417)

Well, this is not about the study, but there are guys around the world flying solar-electric sailplanes ( ). This is definitely greener than any internal-combustion engine car, or even greener than a electric car charged with electricity from coal powerplant.
Plus, sailplanes go above clouds, so they have power as long as they want.

Renewable (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28247433)

Another thing it doesn't get into is the existing technology for running trains directly from electric lines. If you think about it, rail is the only freight transportation method which can be powered DIRECTLY from renewable energy sources like wind, solar and hydro, using existing tested and proven technology.

Look at it from another angle (3, Interesting)

blind biker (1066130) | more than 5 years ago | (#28247447)

Earlier this year I flew from Paris to Bangkok and was reading the information sheet of the Boeing 777-200 on which I was flying. The 777-200 is one of the most fuel-efficient long-haul aircrafts there is. So the consumption is 0.022l of Kerosene per (km*passenger) (liters per kilometer per passenger). That's better than many cars, if you drive alone, which most people, sadly, do. So if you look at it from this angle, the 777-200 is more fuel-efficient.

But here comes the kick: from Paris to Bangkok is nearly 10.000Km. So to ship my white ass between the two points, I was responsible for consuming some 200l of Kerosene! I felt rather bad when we landed, as I imagined 200 liters of kerosene burned up in the atmosphere, just for my enjoyment (I was consoled rather quickly, though, as Thai women are the most beautiful in the world. If there was any justice, we'd have all the Miss World winners from Thailand.).

ticket price (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28247515)

There's one really simple metric for measuring this. The cost of the ticket in economy class. It's not scientifically accurate but it should give a rough idea. And currently in many cases trains are more expensive for long distances. But for cargo they're obviously much cheaper.

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