NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


July 12, 2004

Mass transit trains in the United Kingdom are not the environmentally friendly transportation mode originally thought when compared to cars, according to a study from England's Lancaster University.

In calculating fuel consumption per seat for express trains between London and Edinburgh, Roger Kemp and fellow researchers discovered that:

  • Conventional 125mph trains consumed about 11.5 liters per seat, slightly more than the same trip using a diesel-powered car, which consumes about 10 liters per passenger.
  • New and forthcoming trains will travel up to 215mph, but will lose efficiency, consuming 22 liters of fuel per passenger due to their heavier weight.
  • British buses (which carry an average of 8 people) are more fuel efficient than cars, but only if they are at full capacity; if companies were to make buses larger and more comfortable in order to encourage ridership however, they would become less fuel efficient than cars.

Roger Ford of Modern Railways Magazine cites regulations as a reason for reduced efficiency of trains. Safety and accessibility requirements such as disabled lavatories and crumple zones have reduced seating capacity in trains and made them heavier.

Kemp notes that trains do fare better than cars for short trips in highly congested areas, but the study shows that environmental targets cannot be achieved simply by increasing inter-city rail travel.

Sources: Julia Horton, "Has the Age of the Train Run Out of Steam?", June 23, 2004; and Paul Marston, "Cars Are More Fuel Efficient Than Trains, Claims Study,", June 21, 2004.


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