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Do Passenger Trains Save Energy? Another Look

By Randal O'Toole -- July 9, 2009

In response to my recent post about whether passenger trains save energy, a reader asked about the “life-cycle costs of both forms [rails vs. highways] of transportation.”

Such a life-cycle analysis was the focus of a study by researchers at UC (Berkeley), which I mentioned in the previous post (but incorrectly identified as UC Davis).

Their answer is that neither form of transportation is clearly superior to the other; it depends on such things as load factors. Japan’s bullet train from Tokyo to Osaka, which serves more than 60 million people in a 300-mile corridor, is probably more efficient than driving. But the same train from (say) Eugene, Oregon, to Seattle would probably be a huge waste of resources because it would not likely fill enough seats to justify the energy costs of construction.…