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A very impressive analysis of actual train speeds - presumably dependent on 100% punctuality for accuracy?

I appreciate ET is mainly dedicated to Train as opposed to air travel but I would be interested in the comparative cost benefits in terms of travel times, carbon footprint, actual fares, and investment costs.  How do airport costs/passenger numbers compare to train stations+track costs/passenger numbers compare on a pan  European basis?  Is there a "break-even point" - e.g. 500KM - beyond which air travel becomes the more efficient/cheaper option.  Overall, what is the carbon footprint comparison per passenger KM for train vs. Air travel at a pan EU level?  Is there a minimum traffic volume figure below which the occasional plane beats building a line for very few trains? Does air travel offer greater flexibility in terms of seasonal patterns or variable and unpredictable growth patterns - e.g. if Hungary suddenly becomes a very popular tourist/business traveller destination - can that demand be best met by increased air or train capacity?

I appreciate we are comparing apples and oranges here, but a rational EU transportation policy has to make decisions as top where most investment should go.  Is China stealing a march on the EU with its HSR development, or would the EU, is it had the same investment funds available, be better off going for a different rail/road/air mix of transport infrastructure?

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Jul 19th, 2011 at 12:04:51 PM EST
I think it is pretty straight forward.

Rail has its main emissions during the construction phase of the rail, flight during start and landing of each plane. So I think the cutoffs are not based on distance but rather on number of passengers on the line.

Searched back in previous discussions and found this to support my view:

OECD/ITF: JTRC Discussion Papers

Environmental aspects of inter-city passenger transport
Per KAGESON, Nature Associates, Stockholm, Sweden
Discussion Paper No 2009-28, December 2009

Page 25 in the pdf:

The conclusion of this paper is that investment in high speed rail is under most circumstances likely to reduce greenhouse gases from traffic compared to a situation when the line was not
built. The reduction, though, is small and it may take decades for it to compensate for the emissions caused by construction. However, where capacity restraints and large transport volumes justify investment in high speed rail this will not cause overall emissions to rise.

In cases where anticipated journey volumes are low it is not only difficult to justify the investment in economical terms, but it may also be hard to defend the project from an environmental point of view as it will take too long for traffic to offset the emissions caused by building the line. Under such circumstances it may be better to upgrade an existing line to accommodate for somewhat higher speeds as this would minimize emissions from construction and cut emissions from train traffic compared to high speed rail.

Note though, that it mainly compares HSR and ordinary rail.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Tue Jul 19th, 2011 at 03:20:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for this.  But would I be right in thinking that the environmental advantage of HSR over air transport is marginal except at high volumes of traffic on a route?

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Jul 19th, 2011 at 03:28:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I do not know what the cutoff is, but yes something along those lines.

And now I see that the pdf is gone from the link. I copied the quote from the comment I wrote when I read the paper.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Tue Jul 19th, 2011 at 03:40:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
More than just the enviormental benefit, one of the main points of HSR.. and regular rail, for that matter, is that it is a mode of transport not dependant on oil, but instead largely electricity. Yes, for construction too. - arcfurnace steel is a fairly economically viable proposition. This reduces the amount of very expensive synthetic fuels we are going to need in the long term. This also implies that once the problem of producing abundant low-carbon electricity is solved, rail construction itself gets much less polluting, because the carbon footprint of the steel drops.

There are also cement chemistries that are outright carbon negative as they absorb more carbon during hardening than it takes to produce them, so the carbon foot print of rail is not unavoidable. The physical  footprint however, is really quite difficult to avoid or reduce except by going entirely below ground or with elevated tracks.

by Thomas on Tue Jul 19th, 2011 at 04:19:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Jul 19th, 2011 at 04:38:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Airports have a huge footprint too.
by njh on Tue Jul 19th, 2011 at 10:42:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think I commented when askod posted this earlier that I don't think any simple claims can be made. We are talking about factors here that each have ranges in orders of magnitude:

  • High-speed line electricity supply: it obviously makes a difference whether it comes from coal-fired power plants or hydro, for example.
  • High-speed line construction emissions: with the same materials technology (because most CO2 emissions are from manufacturing steel and cement), it basically depends on the volume of superstructures, and there is a great difference between a line consisting of level track on flat stable ground in a sparsely populated area and a line consisting almost only of viaducts over soft soil and villages.
  • Traffic level: there are high-speed lines carrying 1-2 million passengers a year, and ones carrying 138 million passengers a year (two orders of magnitude!).
  • High-speed line renewal: how long do the different parts of the infrastructure last? (The construction-related CO2 emissions will have to de divided by the total number of passengers over that period.) This is not straightforward. We are speaking of components with a life on the range of decades, and it can both happen that something lasts multiple times longer than originally planned (due to too conservative expectations or advances in maintenance), or that something lasts a fraction of that time (due to bad quality control, unexpected events or corrosive processes, or an upgrade that became a demand or necessity earlier than a regular renewal).
  • Distance: this is a strong factor for air transport CO2 emissions.
  • Airport size and location: air transport related emissions also include some significant construction emissions (runway, terminals, connecting highways and rapid rail) and emissions from airport access transport (which can be anything from a lot of private car driving to a short tram ride).

On the long run, I do think that construction-related CO2 emissions can be reduced significantly. There is research both on the steel and cement front.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Jul 19th, 2011 at 04:39:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It doesn't look good if you have to build extensive tunnels or viaducts and pour millions of cubic meters of concrete (with all their attendant CO2 costs). If you strictly want to go for the environmental benefits then you'll want to build higher-speed conventional rail (200-230?). Unless you have a country that's completely flat and empty. The air traffic CO2 problem will resolve itself by curtailment.

Schengen is toast!
by epochepoque on Tue Jul 19th, 2011 at 04:39:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
you'll want to build higher-speed conventional rail (200-230?)

Well unless it is along an existing line and you'll have lots of trackside buildings to demolish/rebuild and lots of noise walls to construct in villages crossed.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Jul 19th, 2011 at 04:45:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
A report worth reading: High-Speed Rail in the U.S. - Potential and Impact on CO2 Emissions
From these variants we have created a "Worst HSR savings case". With the high CO2 intensity of electricity production, high HSR electricity intensity, and low occupancy, CO2 intensity of HSR travel is over 50 gCO2/pass-km, while in the reverse case it is only 7.5 gCO2/pass-km, vs 38 gCO2/pass-km in the projections. The worst case cuts CO2 savings by 20% in the Baseline case and 37% in the Global case, while the "best" HSR leads to about 30% more savings in either case. [...]

For those concerned about CO2 emissions, an outcome where both HSR and other modes have low intensities while shifting to HSR is the highest is the best (this is the case we illustrated in detail in Table 10). What saves the most CO2 overall in the US, however, may not reflect the maximum savings that can be tied to HSR, because the CO2 intensities of the modes shifting to HSR will also have fallen. Projections of CO2 from HSR that assume a low- CO2 profile of HSR because of technological progress in trainsets and electric power production should consider that for consistency similar progress would occur to reduce emissions from light duty vehicles and air travel.

I don't think there will be great emission reductions in air travel but that's a whole different area.

I remember there was a report specifically about the CO2/energy efficiency of California HSR that Clem Tiller or someone else corrected on a blog. Caltrain-hsr?, cahsrblog? - shit, I don't remember and I can't find the post anymore. Can anybody help me?

Schengen is toast!

by epochepoque on Tue Jul 19th, 2011 at 10:29:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I would not bet on there being no improvements in the efficiency of air travel. Changing to turboprops would be a big improvement. And today's cylindrical fuselages are optimized for production cost, not fuel efficiency. Here's how they should be shaped...

http://ntrs.nasa.gov/archive/nasa/casi.ntrs.nasa.gov/19860014381_1986014381.pdf

by asdf on Fri Jul 22nd, 2011 at 11:53:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Don't forget to account for a general change in the value of travel as the cost of energy changes. 100 years ago it was really, really expensive to travel long distances. Recently it's been really cheap. There's probably a happy median in there somewhere, but in that case, the value of the time taken to travel at some speed will have to be accounted for.

HSR is competing with today's air travel in cost and speed. But if the cost of air travel jumps up due to the lack of electric airplanes, then maybe the trains don't need to go quite as fast to attract passengers. I think there is a degree of national technological pride involved in today's HSR projects, and that while there may be some of them in the long run, for trunk connections, "fast" conventional trains will be the majority system.

Or, most likely, electric cars.

by asdf on Fri Jul 22nd, 2011 at 11:46:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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