General Question

Carly's avatar

Which kind of cross-country transportation pollutes the least?

Asked by Carly (4550points) August 21st, 2010

I go to school in St. Louis, MO, but my parents and boyfriend like in the SF bay area. For the past 3 years I’ve traveled by plane, making at least 2–3 round trips every year.

I’m becoming more energy and environmentally conscientious this past year, so I’m wondering if taking the train would be better in that aspect. I know it takes days for that kind of a train ride, but i’m not worried about that.

Do you think taking the train would be worth it financially as well as environmentally?

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15 Answers

Coloma's avatar

Your own legs, a bicycle or a horse.

Trains next, yes. It will also be a nice opportunity to see the countrysides of america.

Carly's avatar

Hm, I don’t think I could walk 1000+ miles with all my luggage, but a horse and buggy would be cool!

Nullo's avatar

Zomg, another Louie! We oughta start a club.

The train is going to be cheaper, and less reliable.
Environmentally, it makes no difference what you take; the planes are going to fly and the trains are going to run no matter what you do. So I suggest that you limit your efforts to striking a balance between cost and convenience.

john65pennington's avatar

I have a used Yugo that you might be interested in. when it runs, it gets good gas mileage and pollutes the atmosphere very little. its top speed is about 40 mph and its not very dependable. the price is right. on a long trip, i would also take along a bicycle, just in case. if the Yugo failed, then you would be pollution-free by pedaling your bicycle to San Francisco. and, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair.

marinelife's avatar

When it is plane vs train, train wins:

“Eurostar has done its homework and commissioned independent research to assess the CO2 per passenger produced by a London-Paris Eurostar journey versus that emitted by a passenger on a London-Paris flight. The research looked at actual Eurostar passenger loadings, actual Eurostar power consumption, the way Eurostar’s electricity is generated, actual aircraft loadings, actual aircraft fuel consumption, and so on. The conclusion was remarkable: Taking the train to Paris instead of flying cuts CO2 emissions per passenger not just by a measly 10% or 20% or even 50%, but by a staggering 90%...


Austinlad's avatar


Afos22's avatar

If your worried about traveling in an environmentally friendly way, just remember that the train, that I suggest you take, would run anyway. So, its not like you, personally, are adding to pollution.

perspicacious's avatar

hitch hiking

BarnacleBill's avatar

@Afos22 makes an excellent point. Utilizing any scheduled mass transportation will not affect your carbon footprint. They will run whether or not you are on them. It’s only if you drive that you have impact. If you are in dorm and go home for the summer, consider storing your belongings near school, rather than hauling stuff back and forth.

ETpro's avatar

If it is further than you would want to walk, then a train is a very efficient mode of transportation. Passenger aircraft would be next, then buses and finally a passenger car.


Not going at all or as few times as possible.

Carly's avatar

@ETpro how is an airplane better than a car?

ETpro's avatar

@Carly In fact, not all airplanes are. The COncorde was a real gas guzzler. So are corporate jets that carry only a few passengers. But a Boeing 747 turns in 91 passenger miles per gallon—the metric you use to compare fuel efficiency for various means of transportation.

Smashley's avatar

Some people have pointed out that most transportation will be going, whether or not you take them, and use it to suggest that it doesn’t matter if you take them, since the vehicle would go anyway. I disagree with this perspective.

Whenever you buy a bus/plane/train ticket, you are increasing the demand for such services. Sure, your specific presence isn’t enough to make a bus travel when it otherwise would not have, but think of it like voting. It’s your small contribution to the continuation of the service. You are telling the world that this is a good way to travel, and that the environmental outputs are acceptable to you. If you validate an industry you have issue with, you aren’t really being true to your beliefs. Buying a ticket gives that industry more money to continue doing what it is doing and expand their services.

As I see it, the only zero-emission methods of getting across the country are either using your own feet (or bike wheels) or catching a free ride. By this, I mean any method of transport that really would be doing what it was doing, even if not a single person offered money to ride on it. This includes hitchhiking, hopping a freight train, or driving someone else’s car to get it somewhere they need it (search around! People really do do this, and you might just get lucky.)

Of course, whenever you take a motorized transport, your weight alone reduces fuel economy, but if you want the absolute minimum, those are the best ways to go, and if you do your research and talk to others who’ve done it, you’ll realize they aren’t all as crazy as they might sound. I’m off hitchhiking tomorrow, actually! It’s a great, cheap way to see the country and get to know the people you share a national identity with.

preVenger's avatar

Rent a Prius and drive?

The funniest answer had to be “if the Yugo failed…” I think that would be a given :)

I, too, disagree that organized transportation will carry on with or without your ticket purchase. Maybe this year, but next year, you could make a difference with your choice. I dont eat pork. Personal reasons regarding the humane treatment of livestock. I dont expect my portion of ham or bacon to save the porcine population from abuse…but, maybe my story about WHY I dont eat pork will slowly propagate and make a difference. This theory also can relate to people thinking their ‘one vote’ doesnt matter. It does. Ditto on your transportation dilemma.

Soooo…how did you end up getting there?

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