May on the train


in Canada, Economics, Politics, The environment, Travel

Kudos to Green Party leader Elizabeth May for using her campaign to draw attention to the unsustainable character of air travel. Rather than fly all over the country to court voters, she has opted for a far less carbon-intensive train based approach. One round-trip journey from Toronto to Vancouver emits about 1,700 kilos of carbon dioxide equivalent. A train journey emits about 730kg: about 60% less. That is not enough of a reduction for trail travel as presently undertaken to be genuinely sustainable, but it is a significant step in the right direction. People would also probably think more about long-distance transport if it took a few days rather than six or seven hours.

The linked CBC article does get one thing wrong, however. It says: “Other observers have pointed out it is probably cheaper than flying, too.” As discussed here before, taking the train seems to be more expensive. At present, a return ticket between Toronto and Vancouver is running for $1,390.20 plus taxes. WestJet provide the round-trip transport for $439.25 after taxes.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

. September 24, 2008 at 9:11 am

Sir John A. Macdonald’s fondness of drink is well documented. But his true weakness was pie. During whistle-stop campaign tours, Macdonald insisted that a fresh-baked pastry — preferably blueberry or strawberry — be waiting on the train platform, to be lustily consumed immediately after his public addresses.

Emily September 24, 2008 at 9:56 am

John A. leaves us with so much to be proud of…

As for the train travel, I thought that part of the CBC article was absurd. It’s much more expensive to train than fly non-stop, almost as a rule.

Maybe it is cheaper to travel across the country if you are stopping and starting again in different cities.

In any case, I think it’s excellent that she’s using it to spread awareness about the necessity of an accessible and viable alternative to air travel.

Anon September 24, 2008 at 10:25 am

Taking the train takes three days, while flying takes six hours.

Considering just the two extra days, working a minimum wage job could earn you about $130. Someone making $50,000 a year is effectively sacrificing the equivalent of $275. As such, the economics of the train compared to flying are even worse than those you get from considering the ticket price only.

Emily September 24, 2008 at 2:27 pm

If you were calculating the amount of tax dollars that might be wasted in the process of train travel, that figure doesn’t incorporate the long-term economic affects of pumping 60% more carbon emissions into the atmosphere over extended period of time.

Certainly adaptation is more expensive in the long-term, considering both public finances and human welfare, than mitigation is.

If it was a strictly personal decision I would foot the extra $275 a day 3-6 days a year to see a world with coral reef.

Emily September 24, 2008 at 2:48 pm

Erm. I meant that to sound less confrontational than it does. I agree that it is more expensive, and that they are making a big sacrifice financially. Essentially.

Milan September 24, 2008 at 4:11 pm

If you want to see a coral reef, get cracking. According to Working Group II of the IPCC:

“Loss of corals due to bleaching is very likely to occur over the next 50 years especially for the Great Barrier Reef, where climate change and direct anthropogenic impacts such as pollution and harvesting are expected to cause annual bleaching (around 2030 to 2050) followed by mass mortality.”

Tristan September 24, 2008 at 11:45 pm

Unfortunately, it is far less CO2 heavy to drive in a well populated car (3 people or more) than to take the train.

I say unfortunately because the costs of running a car (not to mention, the excessive co2 produced as a single occupancy city vehicle compared to public transit), prohibit many people from having one around when such trips come around.

Milan September 25, 2008 at 9:03 am

I think the medium-term future for continental transport is most likely to lie in moderately high speed electric trains. The tracks could also be HVDC transmission corridors, linking diverse renewable stations to cities.

tristan September 27, 2008 at 1:13 am

I like trains, but I think its far more likely that electric cars are the low energy intensive future. It’s possible (re: teh LOREMO) to build passenger cars that use a very low amount of energy to move people around – far less than it takes to move someone on a train. (I can’t do the math right now, but just for comparison, you need to get better than 3L/100km per person to use less co2 in a carwhen comparing to diesel trains. Now, assume that similar efficiency will be reached by electric trains as electric cars, and that the amount of energy will be proportional to the C02 emitted by the petroleum powered equivalents. You can then deduce that a car that gets 1.5L/100km will, as an electric, do better than an electric train.

Also, its easy as city dwellers to under estimate the importance of rural travel. North America is a very rural continent, and trains are very bad at moving rural people around. Especially because its extremely expensive to build the inferstructure.

Roads already exist. We should think seriously before saying that the long term future oughtened involve them.

Milan September 27, 2008 at 11:12 am

In the end, I am fine with any sort of zero-emission or very low emission vehicle. Picking technological winners is challenging, though it can also be necessary when there is so much support infrastructure required to keep people moving in one way or another.

One factor that may alter calculations a bit is the possibility that we could build joint electric rail and HVDC transmission corridors. If we need to build the HVDC infrastructure anyhow – in order to link up different kinds of renewable energy and build a low-carbon grid – then the additional cost of the parallel train infrastructure may be manageable.

On rural travel, I think it is possible that the current situation, where you can live in an isolated place and still expect to travel rapidly around, may not be able to persist for most people. Indeed, the total amount of travel in general may fall when fossil fuels are no longer considered an acceptable fuel. The enormous amount of energy in them will not be easily replaced from renewable sources.

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