Are trains green?

I’ve always promoted life-cycle analysis. We need to know the total picture before we commit to heavy infrastructure. The Bush corn fuel boondoggle points out that we don’t think ahead.

A new study compares the “full life-cycle” emissions generated by 11 different modes of transportation in the US.

Unlike previous studies on transport emissions, this one looks beyond what is emitted by different types of car, train, bus or plane while their engines are running and includes emissions from building and maintaining the vehicles and their infrastructure, as well as generating the fuel to run them. (source:

“Although mass transit is often touted as more energy efficient than cars, this is not always the case.”

Crisscrossing the US with a rail network, however, creates a different problem. More than half of the life-cycle emissions from rail come not from the engines’ exhausts, but infrastructure development, such as station building and track laying, and providing power to stations, lit parking lots and escalators.