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Is Rail Really a Fuel Saver? (rethinking a rationale for Obama’s National Transportation Plan)

By Randal O'Toole -- June 11, 2009

[Editor Note: Transportation expert Randal O’Toole is a senior fellow of the Cato Institute and blogs at Antiplanner. His¬†bio is at the end of this post.]

Amtrak, the American Public Transportation Association, and other passenger-rail advocates want everyone to believe that passenger trains are more energy efficient than driving. This helps them justify the hundreds of billions of tax subsidies they receive. But is this rationale true?

Comparing the Studies

A new study from the University of California (Davis) finds that the answer depends on such things as load factors: your auto carrying four people consumes a lot less energy per passenger mile than a subway (which on average is only one-sixth full) or Amtrak train (which on average is only half full).

The Department of Energy’s Transportation Energy Data Book says that, on average, cars consumed…