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Published on April 8th, 2008 | by Stephanie Evans

Eco Train Technologies

These days, it’s fairly well-understood that most travel results in the production of carbon dioxide (CO2), the primary contributor to climate change and global warming.

So how can we better balance our desires and needs to get from one place to another, and still minimize the carbon footprint we make on the planet?  By taking the train, of course!

High Speed Eco-friendly Train

The benefits of train travel are numerous: besides being a green form of transportation, train travel is relaxing, convenient, and far more scenic than flying by airline.  A tour by train is practically a vacation in itself, and it creates about a third of the CO2 created by plane travel.  Calculate your own travel emissions at TravelMatters.

When you travel by train, you have a chance to acclimate to your new destination and are spared the experience of jet lag and disorientation that often occurs during plane travel.

Trains in the U.S.

Inter-city train travel in the United States is provided by Amtrak.  Schedules and fares may be accessed online, or by calling (800) USA-RAIL. Special discounts and sales are also posted on Amtrak’s website.

While the U.S. is currently far behind Europe in terms of high speed train travel, in 1999 Amtrak introduced the Acela Express, the first and only high speed train operating in America.  The Acela runs along the Northeast Corridor, a passenger rail line that runs between the densely-populated Northeastern United States of Washington D.C., and Boston, Massachusetts.

Aside from the Acela, train travel in the U.S. is time-consuming.  Members of the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) continue working to expand awareness of the energy efficiency of train travel, and to expand both the quality and quantity of passenger rail in the U.S.

Train travel in the U.S. anywhere besides the Northeast Corridor runs on tracks owned by freight railroads and is therefore subject to more infrequent schedules and delays, making it a method of travel no faster than driving… but it is still more fuel efficient and relaxing.  If you aren’t in a rush to get to where you’re going and you’d like to get a chance to see countryside, take the train.

Railbound Technologies Abroad

Without a doubt, the U.S. is light years behind in terms of efficient transportation options.  Europe and Japan haven’t stopped with the bullet train or the light rail, but have continued to invent newer and faster technologies.  While only 0.3% of Americans use trains for transportation, 7% of travel in Europe is by train.  For Japan, too, trains are a major means of passenger transport.

High-speed rail travel outside of the U.S.—as a commuter option or for travel—is generally faster, cheaper, and more eco-friendly than traveling by plane.  Railteam is an alliance of seven European high-speed rail operators collaborating to integrate high-speed rail travel between major European cities, and working to compete with airlines on punctuality, environmental impact, pricing and speed.  By coordinating departure times between cities, the Railteam high speed train network will be able to offer consistent and efficient travel for its users.  Railteam’s plans include increasing its rail passengers from the current 15 million a year to 25 million by 2010.

Trials are underway in Europe and Japan for hybrid high-speed train systems, which will cut emission levels by half and fuel costs by a fifth.  Virgin Trains in the UK recently launched Britain’s first biodiesel passenger train, dubbed The Voyager. The train is fueled by 20% biodiesel (derived from biological sources including rapeseed, soybean, and palm oils) to reduce carbon emissions without harming the engine.  Plans are in the making to convert to 100% biodiesel at a later date—the equivalent of taking 100,000 vehicles off the road.

Train Travel Tips

If you’re planning a trip to Europe, rail is the way to go.  If you’re planning to see several countries, consider buying a Eurail pass, which allows you the option of traveling anywhere throughout 18 countries without the hassle and expense of multiple tickets.

New Zealand’s version of the rail pass is called the Flexipass.  The ride is comfortable, the seats are roomier than those on airplanes, and you have a chance to really see the lay of the land that you are visiting.

  • Just as with air travel, you should always be prepared to deal with unexpected delays or cancellations.  Avoid close connections to ensure you don’t miss your train, and dress comfortably.
  • If you plan to get a sleeper car, remember to make your reservations well in advance.
  • Never leave your luggage unsupervised, either on the train or in the station.

A pleasurable low-impact adventure awaits you when you take the train and plan your train vacation well.  To find out more about train routes available in the U.S., visit the Independent Traveler Web site.

Article Contributors: Julie Reid




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