Author Topic: Train or Plane (pollution impact) for cross-country work travel?  (Read 3615 times)

digitalmentat

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Does an Amtrak from Austin, TX to San Jose, CA have a smaller carbon footprint than the equivalent trip on an Airplane?

Some context: I work remotely for a startup in Mountain View, CA; occasionally (every few months) they like to have me come out for a week or two on-site work trip. The remote work gig has enabled me to optimize my life (recently) pretty well. I no longer own a car, I ride my bike to do all of my errands, etc.

Since these work trips are reimbursed to me entirely by the company, I had the thought today that my default action of snapping up a plane ticket feels irresponsible given that I'm price-insensitive (company pays for it), I can work on the train with the train's WiFi which means I can travel during a workday, and all I have to do is suffer through about one day's worth of travel (oh my).

I haven't quantified the carbon footprint of either my airtravel or railtravel. I was hoping either someone has already done this work or could point me to useful information that would help me figure it out, as I feel like it is my responsibility now to do whichever one will pollute less.

Bracken_Joy

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Re: Train or Plane (pollution impact) for cross-country work travel?
« Reply #1 on: May 10, 2017, 02:11:57 PM »
https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/06/130617111345.htm

It appears that rail is unquestionably better than airplane, and car can be equivalent if you carpool, but not if you drive alone. So rail is the answer for distances of 500-1000km, according to this article.

I found another article that makes a more nuanced breakdown: http://www.mnn.com/green-tech/transportation/blogs/plane-train-or-automobile-which-has-the-biggest-footprint

Of interest to me was this paragraph:
Quote
Airplanes are about 3 percent of total global climate emissions. A single flight produces three tons of carbon dioxide per passenger, but the amount goes up dramatically if the plane is nearly empty. Further complicating the picture for planes is that they produce vapor trails and emit tropospheric ozone, which have big ó but not long-lasting ó climate impacts. CO2 from your carís exhaust, by contrast, will stay in the atmosphere for centuries.
« Last Edit: May 10, 2017, 02:14:38 PM by Bracken_Joy »

bacchi

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Re: Train or Plane (pollution impact) for cross-country work travel?
« Reply #2 on: May 10, 2017, 02:36:44 PM »
Having made this trip by train a few times, you should know that delays are common for long Amtrak runs. Even the economy seats are large and comfortable, though, so it's not like your knees are in your face.

And, while I think about it, get the Amtrak credit card and get some miles for your personal trips.

digitalmentat

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Re: Train or Plane (pollution impact) for cross-country work travel?
« Reply #3 on: May 10, 2017, 03:01:42 PM »
Thanks Bracken_Joy. I'll try to dig more, in the meantime I did find the Environmental Impact of Aviation article on Wikipedia rather interesting.

Notably that the radiative forcing from airtravel is quite high (probably due to emissions in the troposphere?):
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In attempting to aggregate and quantify the total climate impact of aircraft emissions the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has estimated that aviation's total climate impact is some 2-4 times that of its direct CO2 emissions alone (excluding the potential impact of cirrus cloud enhancement).[17]

Sadly I couldn't find a similar Wikipedia article on the environmental impact of long-distance passenger rail. I might make that a weekend project to do some research and contribute a similar article to Wikipedia.

@bacchi, thanks. Delays aren't an inconvenience for my work, as long as I have an internet connection I can do everything I need.

klabe

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Re: Train or Plane (pollution impact) for cross-country work travel?
« Reply #4 on: May 10, 2017, 06:07:02 PM »
I love long distance trains, but you should know that the Texas Eagle doesn't have wifi, if that's something you were counting on.

GetItRight

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Re: Train or Plane (pollution impact) for cross-country work travel?
« Reply #5 on: May 11, 2017, 06:25:39 PM »
I would take the train every time if it were practical so far as time and price, solely because of the TSA. Violation of your rights and sexual assault by the government as condition to be transported by a private company is abhorrent. I only submit to it when required for work travel, as unfortunately rail is not practical for the distance and route I need to travel.

AlanStache

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Re: Train or Plane (pollution impact) for cross-country work travel?
« Reply #6 on: May 12, 2017, 06:18:00 PM »
The train may (or may not) have wifi and large seats but Amtrack from here to DC is running the wifi off cell towers so the coverage is good in some places and spotty to nonexistent in others.   Also I have found that the bouncing/rocking on the train can prevent me from doing real work, you might still be able to read or do basic writing but hard core work may be more trouble than it is worth.  Crazily I would also choose airport food over on board train food too ;-p  I dont want to sound to negative about the train but I think the negatives of air travel are well known and besides travel time the train has other draw backs. 

Spork

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Re: Train or Plane (pollution impact) for cross-country work travel?
« Reply #7 on: May 12, 2017, 06:23:15 PM »
Having made this trip by train a few times, you should know that delays are common for long Amtrak runs. Even the economy seats are large and comfortable, though, so it's not like your knees are in your face.

And, while I think about it, get the Amtrak credit card and get some miles for your personal trips.

I've never made the trip, but have friends that have.  From their experience, it's worse than delay.  It's "sit on track for hours broken down then finally a Greyhound bus comes" delay.  From what little anecdotal evidence I've seen, train travel outside the Northeast corridor is awful, very expensive and very unreliable.  It's sort of sad.  It seems like a fun way to travel.  And modern day commercial air is NOT a fun way to travel.

Syonyk

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Re: Train or Plane (pollution impact) for cross-country work travel?
« Reply #8 on: May 12, 2017, 08:43:03 PM »
I've done cross country Amtrak before (once).  We were delayed by 6+ hours both ways, and didn't spring for the sleeper, so it involved trying to sleep in coach chairs, which... eh.  Not my thing.

I loved the trip, but it's like flying yourself in a small plane - not a good way to get from point A to point B on a schedule.

CCCA

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Re: Train or Plane (pollution impact) for cross-country work travel?
« Reply #9 on: May 12, 2017, 09:08:55 PM »
One other consideration is that you have to think about the incremental impact of your decision.  I.e. does getting on the train or play actually lead to additional emissions?  For example, let's say a friend is driving to a concert, and you are deciding whether to carpool with them or stay at home, then it's likely that both choices have the same incremental impact (no additional emissions).


For your decision, planes typically have higher load factors (they run fuller) and as a result, riding a plane regularly is more likely to lead to incrementally more planes being flown. 


Amtrak has fairly low load factors, for example it's typically less than half full, the likelihood of your riding it, leading to additional trains being run is fairly low.


A decision about driving a car vs riding on a scheduled public transportation service (planes, trains, buses, transit) actually has very different impacts in terms of this approach of looking at the likely incremental change in emissions.   


So it's sort of a hard question to answer from a real emissions impact point of view.

Duke03

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Re: Train or Plane (pollution impact) for cross-country work travel?
« Reply #10 on: May 12, 2017, 11:28:47 PM »
Does an Amtrak from Austin, TX to San Jose, CA have a smaller carbon footprint than the equivalent trip on an Airplane?

Some context: I work remotely for a startup in Mountain View, CA; occasionally (every few months) they like to have me come out for a week or two on-site work trip. The remote work gig has enabled me to optimize my life (recently) pretty well. I no longer own a car, I ride my bike to do all of my errands, etc.

Since these work trips are reimbursed to me entirely by the company, I had the thought today that my default action of snapping up a plane ticket feels irresponsible given that I'm price-insensitive (company pays for it), I can work on the train with the train's WiFi which means I can travel during a workday, and all I have to do is suffer through about one day's worth of travel (oh my).

I haven't quantified the carbon footprint of either my airtravel or railtravel. I was hoping either someone has already done this work or could point me to useful information that would help me figure it out, as I feel like it is my responsibility now to do whichever one will pollute less.

Plan on a day lay over in San Antonio if you take the train.  Sunset runs west to east and The Texas Eagle  runs north to south out of San Antonio. It departs every morning around 8ish.  These two trains schedules really don't sink up so plan accordingly.

As far as pollution goes.  The Sunset route is a huge waste of tax payer money and the trains have very few passengers.  When you factor pollution on a per passenger level the plane will win every time.
« Last Edit: May 12, 2017, 11:32:23 PM by Duke03 »

Dicey

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Re: Train or Plane (pollution impact) for cross-country work travel?
« Reply #11 on: May 13, 2017, 02:15:40 PM »
For pleasure, sure. For work, hell no! If you are delayed because you took a train, it's gonna look like it's your fault. Seriously, the plane is going to make the same trip whether you're on it or not. There are lots of other ways to mitigate your carbon footprint, IMO.

chasesfish

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Re: Train or Plane (pollution impact) for cross-country work travel?
« Reply #12 on: May 13, 2017, 03:08:48 PM »
I'd opt for the quick plane travel then go enjoy the city of Austin.

I think travel in either generally sucks, so get it done with quickly.

Cranky

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Re: Train or Plane (pollution impact) for cross-country work travel?
« Reply #13 on: May 13, 2017, 03:52:28 PM »
I find Amtrak to be a million times more comfortable than flying, and have had about the same number of delays.

But - time is not critical when I travel.

Moonwaves

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Re: Train or Plane (pollution impact) for cross-country work travel?
« Reply #14 on: May 13, 2017, 05:10:56 PM »
The book Heat by George Monbiot goes into this kind of thing. It'd be a bit dated now (I know he has once or twice published articles based on new evidence and that kind of thing) but it's a good read nonetheless, and I remember it as being quite thorough in the comparisons made. And I do remember a resounding no to plane travel.

Personally, if I have a choice and enough time, I'd always choose train over plane. Having said that, trains in Germany are a far different thing than trains in the USA. My only experience of trains in the US was nearly twenty years ago during a holiday. We took a train from New York to Niagra, then a couple of days later from there to Buffalo, travelling on to Boston the next morning. After our stay in Boston we were supposed to go straight back to New York but snow caused delays and eventually cancellations of the train from Chicago so we ended up, several hours later, going back to Buffalo and from there on to New York. From what other people are saying, it sounds like delays still happen and might not be a rare occurence. The other major difference I found with US trains was that they were really wobbly. I found it very difficult to walk up and down in them and I might find working hard. I wouldn't worry about whether or not train food is better than plane or airport food - since you're a mustachian, I assume you'd just bring your own food and drink with you anyway. :)

You should do it at least once and figure out if you like it enough more than flying to justify any potential inconveniences.