Westjet v. The Canadian

2008-02-12

in Canada, Economics, The environment, Travel

For those pondering lower carbon options for traversing Canada, Via Rail has a Toronto-Vancouver train called The Canadian that makes the trip in a little over three days each way. Unfortunately, the tickets are ridiculously expensive. Even in a shared sleeper car, it costs about $1,700 round trip, compared with $500 – $600 for a much faster journey with Westjet.

The round-trip flight generates about 1,700kg of carbon dioxide equivalent, while the train produces about 727kg. It seems a bit crazy to spend three times the money and twelve times the time in order to avoid emitting as much carbon as the average Canadian does in sixteen days.

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{ 40 comments… read them below or add one }

Milan February 11, 2008 at 12:29 pm

Super Continental

The Super Continental was a transcontinental Canadian passenger train operated originally by the Canadian National Railway beginning in 1955 and subsequently by VIA Rail Canada from 1977 until its cancellation in 1981. Service was restored in 1985 but was again eliminated in 1990. The original CNR train had a Montreal – Ottawa – Toronto – Winnipeg – Saskatoon – Edmonton – Jasper – Vancouver routing with daily service.

By the late 1980’s, federal budgets were under serious pressure, and the Mulroney government’s 1989 budget proved disastrous for VIA rail. The last trains left Winnipeg & Vancouver on January 14, 1990, afterwards the Super Continental was abolished. This left The Canadian as VIA’s sole transcontinental train, which today operates three times a week Vancouver to Toronto only over the CN route of the original Super Continental rather than on its original CPR trackage. This gave rise to its nickname — the “Con-adian”.

Milan February 11, 2008 at 12:30 pm

By the late 1980s, inflation and other rising costs were taking their toll on federal budgets and in the Mulroney government’s infamous 1989 budget, VIA again saw its budget slashed, surpassing even the 1981 cuts under Trudeau. Minister of Transport Benoit Bouchard oversaw the reduction in service on January 15, 1990 when VIA’s operations were reduced by 55%.

The Canadian was also moved from its ‘home’ rails on CP to the northerly CN route (which the Super Continental had used). The shift to the less-populated (and less scenic) route between Toronto and Vancouver severed major western cities such as Regina and Calgary from the passenger rail network and flared deep-rooted western bitterness toward Ottawa.

Scott February 12, 2008 at 11:19 pm

Despite outstanding food, one goes absolutely nuts from boredom (and claustrophobic in shared cabins) on the Canadian.
VIA in the corridor however, is by far my favourite choice for travel.

tlaing February 13, 2008 at 4:43 am

How many starving african children could you buy coffee for if you fly westjet?

Padraic February 13, 2008 at 7:40 am

VIA’s currently having a 50% off sale for heading out west if you book before March 31: http://www.viarail.ca/50eastwest/indexEn.html?WT.mc_id=lnk_vppcan_amtrak_en_08_2_6

But you’re right that the time is the real problem — especially if it means factoring in lost days of work to your calculation.

Padraic February 13, 2008 at 8:49 am

Another discount I just heard of — if you are a member of the Sierra Youth Coalition, apparently you get a steep 40% discount. While that’s pretty close to the ISIC discount of 35%, if you are under 26, for $20/year you can join the SYC and rake in those savings, even as a non-student.

Also: I think it’s pretty unfair to use the sleeper costs in your comparison. Coach isn’t that bad! But the whole point is with a sleeper, you’re paying for more than just transportation — you’re paying for the “experience”.

Milan February 13, 2008 at 9:46 am

Also: I think it’s pretty unfair to use the sleeper costs in your comparison. Coach isn’t that bad! But the whole point is with a sleeper, you’re paying for more than just transportation — you’re paying for the “experience”.

I could imagine spending one night sleeping upright in a train seat, but spending three days thus confined would be intolerable.

When transportation takes three days, decent sleeping arrangements are an integral component.

Neal February 13, 2008 at 1:26 pm

The carbon emissions for the train seem shockingly high. Does that number take into account an assumed paucity of travellers on a given Via train?

Milan February 13, 2008 at 2:11 pm

Neal,

From Ottawa to Vancouver is 4,808 km by road, probably a bit farther by rail. The NativeEnergy carbon calculator estimates the associated emissions at 986kg.

I am not sure which calculator I used the first time, but a figure of 700 – 900kg for the train seems to be the normal result.

Milan February 13, 2008 at 2:12 pm

From NativeEnergy:

Rail Travel :

CO2 emissions factors for rail travel are from GHG Protocol Indirect CO2 – Business Travel. Calculation Tools. March 2003. Version 1.0.. The emissions factor for U.S. intercity (Amtrack) train travel is 0.19 kg CO2 per passenger mile. The emissions factor for U.S. transit and commuter train travel is 0.16 kg CO2 per passenger mile.

Using the conversion factor 1 kg = 2.205 lbs, the emissions factors for intercity and transit / commuter train travel are: 0.42 and 0.35 lbs CO2 per passenger mile, respectively.

Using the area served by public transportation in three large U.S. cities we have determined a journey less than 20 miles as covered by transit / commuter public transportation services, and a journey greater than 20 miles as covered by intercity public transportation.

We have added a 10% mileage addition factor to account for the non-linear nature of railroad tracks.

Milan February 13, 2008 at 2:16 pm

Emissions for a 4,808km trip, by travel type (as calculated using the NativeEnergy tool):

Car (medium fuel economy): 1,461kg
Plane: 5,974kg
Train: 986kg
Bus: 1,538kg

Their estimate for the flight is way above many others (that’s a one way flight to Vancouver). Here is their methodology for flight emissions:

“Shorter flights are more fuel intensive because of the significant amount of altitude gain relative to the length of the flight itself. On a short trip, a large portion of the energy per mile is devoted to climbing and landing, compared to cruising. That means shorter trips are more carbon intensive.

Depending on whether your travel fits into the short, medium or long haul category, we apply a CO 2 emissions factor of 0.64, 0.44 or 0.40 lbs of CO 2 per passenger mile, respectively. This gives us the direct CO 2 emissions from your flight. [These factors are from the GHG Protocol Commuting Emissions Tool v 1.2]

In addition, we apply an RFI (radiative forcing index) of 2.0 to the direct CO 2 emissions from air travel, resulting in total CO 2 equivalent emission factors of 1.28, 0.88 or 0.8 for short, medium and long haul flight segments. By doubling the direct CO 2 emissions, our goal is to account for the overall global warming impact of air travel for all air emissions – not just the CO 2 – such as the warming effect of contrails. In its 1999 Special Report on Aviation in the Global Atmosphere, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimated the RFI from air travel in 1990 to be between 2 and 4, averaging 2.7 times the carbon impact alone. More recently, the TRADEOFF project of The Fifth Framework Programme of the European Commission of the EU, suggested an RFI of 1.9. The Climate Neutral Network recommends use of a 2.0 times factor on the short haul rate for all flight miles.”

Milan February 13, 2008 at 2:54 pm

atmosfair estimates that a one way Ottawa-Vancouver flight produces 950 kg CO2.

While understandable, such discrepancies are annoying and reduce one’s overall confidence in the value of such estimates.

. February 13, 2008 at 3:19 pm

Trains and buses
Friday, December 14th, 2007

tlaing February 13, 2008 at 3:49 pm

So, in other words, so long as you have 3 people in the car or so the car will emit less C02 than the train?

I bet the suburban with 6 people would be less than the train as well.

But I’m serious – there are a lot more moral things you could do with the extra money than save a little CO2, like for example, buy some starving people some candy.

Anon February 13, 2008 at 5:10 pm

One tonne of C02 is released by the burning of:

432L of gasoline
366L of diesel
391L of kerosine

54 m^3 of natural gas
0.27 m^3 of anthracite coal

. February 13, 2008 at 5:27 pm

My Other Car is a Bright Green City

Alex Steffen
January 23, 2008 5:06 PM

Today’s cars are costly, dangerous and an ecological nightmare. What if the solution to the problems they create, though, has more to do with where we live than what we drive?

tristan February 13, 2008 at 7:57 pm

-I’m just going to point out that according to the numbers todays cars are not an ecological nightmare by themselves, only by how we use them. Used as a way to conveniently transport small groups of people -even between centres were there is a rail link, they are cleaner than the train. To centres where there is no rail link, they are the only option.

The problem with cars is single occupancy commuting, not long distance trekking.

EAP February 13, 2008 at 9:24 pm

ALL of these options are “an ecological nightmare by themselves.” We can emit 750kg a YEAR, EACH. That doesn’t offer much scope for cross-country trips using any of the modes of transport listed.

tlaing February 14, 2008 at 1:54 am

“We can emit 750kg a year, EACH”

We can emit whatever the law allows, more even, because the law applies only some of the time.

The question of how much we ought emit is a question of distributive justice. Numerical equality is advocated by any system of distributive justice. The system which is the closest, however, is a kind of vulgar Marxism.

eh, Marxy?

Milan February 14, 2008 at 8:53 am

Rejecting the 750kg figure requires that you believe one of the following:

1) We don’t need to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations

2) The general estimate of how many tonnes of GHG the planet can absorb in a year is badly wrong

3) You think someone else should have to cut their emissions lower, to compensate for your excess.

In any event, even if you think you are super-special and get five times more emissions than simple fairness dictates, you couldn’t do many cross-country trips using any of these modes of transport.

Milan February 14, 2008 at 10:45 am

We can emit whatever the law allows, more even, because the law applies only some of the time.

A response to one aspect of this will appear as tomorrow’s 7:00am post.

The amount we can emit has nothing to do with law and everything to do with ecology and atmospheric chemistry. Can here refers to “emit sustainably without screwing up the planet” not “can emit without broad-shouldered policemen tossing us in the slammer.”

Tristan February 14, 2008 at 12:51 pm

There is another deep problem with your idea of a moral imperative to emit only 750kg.

I am not sure this is the case, however, it seems to me likely.

A) If we were all to emit only 750kg of CO2, the planet would avert the most awful effects of global warming.

B) If we were all to emit only 750kg of C02, on our own accord and not because of regulations, our lack of consumption would drive the economy into immediate recession.

C) If the economy fell into a strong depression, we would likely lose our jobs, and be either much less able to live or much less able to live while producing less than 750KG of CO2 per year.

My point is, your ability to produce less than 750kg per year relies on your position in an economy that exists because we produce more than 750kg per year.

D) If this logic holds, there cannot be a categorical imperative to produce only 750kg per year (because it results in a contradiction).

tristan February 14, 2008 at 12:53 pm

By the way, a transition to a strict command economy could potentially both avert depression and reduce CO2 consumption to a desired level. Strict command economies are really good at averting depression and producing only biological needs.

Milan February 14, 2008 at 1:06 pm

Strict command economies are really good at averting depression and producing only biological needs.

Strict command economies aren’t much good at producing anything. Look at North Korea, Zimbabwe, and the Soviet Union.

Milan February 14, 2008 at 1:08 pm

My point is, your ability to produce less than 750kg per year relies on your position in an economy that exists because we produce more than 750kg per year.

I agree that we cannot make this transition instantly. We cannot all buy passive houses instantly.

That said, we can reduce unnecessary but significant emissions. Things like travel and meat consumption are near the top of that pile.

tristan February 14, 2008 at 6:52 pm

If you don’t think the command economy of the soviet union was hugely successful in developing Russia between the 20s and the 40s, then it is you who is living in the dream world. To say they weren’t much good at producing anything is so far from the truth it’s laughable. Sure, you can say they weren’t much good at producing anything good, but compare them to contries with similar GDPs in 1917, which others developed ICBMs, Nuclear weapons, massive industry, to the same per capita extent that the Soviets did? The Soviets were the first to fly around the moon, to put a man in space.

To say they weren’t much good at producing anything is pure ideology.

Tristan February 14, 2008 at 6:55 pm

My point is, what if everyone did what are you doing, and reduced their travel and meat consumption to the extent that in find acceptable. What would happen?

Well, the meat industry would disappear over night, and the airlines would be bankrupt by the end of the week.

Also, no one would buy a new house who could afford an old house in the city. Housing starts would collapse. Housing starts are seriously important – when they drop, the whole economy is in trouble.

So, maybe you should think twice before you hope for everyone to reduce their consumption to 750kg/year

Milan February 14, 2008 at 10:45 pm

[T]he meat industry would disappear over night

The factory farms would go. This would be a good thing for several reasons.

[T]he airlines would be bankrupt by the end of the week.

Airlines do seem to be perpetually bankrupt anyhow. It does seem possible that air travel as we experience it today will need to end, if we are to avoid dangerous anthropogenic interference in the climate system.

Milan February 14, 2008 at 10:46 pm

So, maybe you should think twice before you hope for everyone to reduce their consumption to 750kg/year

I agree that everyone doing this tomorrow would be problematic. That said, it’s the level we need to reach before total CO2 concentrations get much beyond 450 ppm. At least, if we want to be able to recognize the planet we’re living on.

tristan February 14, 2008 at 11:52 pm

I just want to point something out – “Native Energy” has used 12.5 liters per hundred kilometers as the “medium” fuel efficiency of a car. This totally insane, and is the kind of thing that the car lobby will use against the “climate change conspirators” and point them out as deranged.

If you can find me a car which gets 12L/100km on the highway, which costs less than a hundred thousand dollars, I will buy you two beers. Trucks don’t count. In fact, if you can find me 5 cars that cost less than 100 000 dollars which get worse than 10L/100km on the highway, I will buy you one beer. I don’t think that many exist. Minivans are fair game. SUV’s arn’t – they are trucks – although you won’t find many of those today which get worse than 12L/100km on the highway either.

Milan February 15, 2008 at 8:49 am

Sure, you can say they weren’t much good at producing anything good, but compare them to contries with similar GDPs in 1917, which others developed ICBMs, Nuclear weapons, massive industry, to the same per capita extent that the Soviets did? The Soviets were the first to fly around the moon, to put a man in space.

They did have their productive high points. Despite losing piles of factories, they made masses of tanks and planes during the Second World War. That said, they did so under conditions of extreme sacrifice.

It seems only fair to say that, overall, command economies are far less productive than free market ones, though they may be able to concentrate effort better when they wish to. (Though that isn’t an open-and-shut case, as the successful conversion of American car factories to war production during WWII shows.)

Neal February 15, 2008 at 3:06 pm

According to a PDF I found from the European Environmental Agency, in the EU-15, rail passenger travel emits 45g CO2 per passenger kilometer, as opposed to 125g for passenger cars. The most efficient mode of transport according to this, are coaches with 35g per passenger km.

According to the site Milan linked, using their calculator for a small car produces less emissions than by rail. I suspect different patterns of use are responsible for the huge disparity between this estimate and the EEA’s for the EU-15.

So I think I have an answer for you, Milan. If you want to do the right thing, take the Greyhound. If you don’t hate yourself with the passion of a thousand burning oil wells, take Westjet.

tristan February 16, 2008 at 4:36 pm

“It seems only fair to say that, overall, command economies are far less productive than free market ones, though they may be able to concentrate effort better when they wish to.”

There’s really no evidence for this, because there are no examples of well run command economies which were not either horribly exploited by the Soviets, or, in Cuba’s case, prevented from trading with their obvious trading partner.

It’s conventional wisdom. You should be really afraid of conventional wisdom. It’s a seed of fascism. Whenever something doesn’t appear to need an argument to back it up, It’s probably “conventional wisdom”.

Milan February 19, 2008 at 3:42 pm

Tristan wrote a more extensive response to this post:

How ecologically friendly is a 14 year old 8 passenger SUV?

Milan February 24, 2008 at 9:14 pm
Milan February 27, 2008 at 10:07 am

This post by Tyler Cohen raises the issue of the morality of flying.

. June 3, 2008 at 3:58 pm

Plane versus train: a one-sided contest

Posted by: Economist.com | TORONTO

Phoenix to San Diego
* Plane: $124, 2.5 hours
* Train: $300, 33 hours
* Auto: $106 (712 miles), 11 hours

Cincinnati to Washington, DC
* Plane: $467, 3 hours
* Train: $148, 28.5 hours
* Auto: $155 (1,044 miles), 17 hours

Grand Rapids to New York
* Plane: $401, 4.5 hours
* Train: $286, 48 hours
* Auto: $221 (1,494 miles), 23.5 hours

. June 3, 2008 at 3:59 pm

Planes, Trains or Automobiles Remains a Big Decision This Summer
CSA Travel Protection Compares Cost and Travel Time for Popular Vacation Destinations

SAN DIEGO, 2008-05-29 – SAN DIEGO, Calif. – With Memorial Day on the books, the unofficial beginning of summer is here. Reports suggest travel will be down this summer, but Americans are looking to get the most out of their time off and many will still head out of town at one point. To help travelers get the most out of their travel dollar this summer, CSA Travel Protection offers a comparison of time and money spent on round-trip travel to five domestic destinations via plane, train and automobile.

. July 17, 2008 at 3:06 pm

Multiple Birds – One Silver BB: A synergistic set of solutions to multiple issues focused on Electrified Railroads

Posted by Prof. Goose on July 15, 2008 – 11:05am

Milan March 25, 2009 at 5:49 pm

Padraic,

The 40% Sierra Youth Coalition discount seems excellent. Unfortunately, it only applies to “regular economy class tickets,” which I don’t think includes sleeper cars.

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