Rail is Greenest of Them All
|An energy-efficient rail network is at the heart of Europe's green travel future.|
Yes, you can fly just about anywhere within Europe pretty cheaply. But your plane ticket comes with a hidden cost: lots and lots of harmful greenhouse gasses. By comparison, the same trip by train creates just a tiny fraction of the nasty stuff — and consumes far less fuel.
If having a green trip matters to you, nothing beats a train.
The Europeans have taken the threats of growing carbon emissions and energy consumption very seriously. As a result of all their diligent number-crunching, it's easier than ever to see the "environmental savings" of riding the rails on your next trip.
For example, thanks to the research behind Eurostar's ambitious "Tread Lightly" initiative (to cut greenhouse emissions 25% per passenger by 2012), we know that your ticket for a roundtrip London-Paris flight will be weighed down by 122 kilograms of CO2 being spewed into the atmosphere. By contrast, the same trip by Eurostar train will produce just 11 kgs — a 90% reduction. The practical effects of this difference may be even greater than that staggering number, as scientists believe that an aircraft's emissions high in the atmosphere are far more damaging than those created by surface transportation.
For travel through Germany, the Deutsche Bahn trip-planning website lets you compare greenhouse emissions for any route by air, train, or car. For example, a person flying from Berlin to Munich generates 90 kg of CO2 by air, 110 kg by car, and just 30 kg by train. (Incidentally, Germany's railroads have cut CO2 emissions by 11% since 2002, and are on target to reduce them by another 20% by 2020.)
Let's assume you've already decided that flying carries too much environmental baggage, but you want to get specifics on the impacts of surface transportation only. The French SNCF Écoparcours website allows you to compare CO2 emissions — even by car types. For example, per 100 kilometers, a rail passenger in France generates just 4.4 kgs of CO2, compared to 4.9 kgs by gazole (diesel) bus, and 16 to 26 kgs per person by car, depending on the car size and fuel type.
According to Nancy Kete, director of the World Resource Institute Center for Sustainable Transport, "Hands down, traveling by rail is the most fuel-efficient and least carbon-intensive way you can go." However, not all trains are equally green...yet. High-speed electric and hybrid trains (the French have the most) are the most fuel-efficient and least-polluting. On the other end of the scale, heavier trains powered by diesel locomotives (more common in Britain) are quite a bit thirstier and dirtier. But governments and rail companies across Europe are investing billions in new equipment and cleaner power. No matter when you take that next trip to Europe — once your transatlantic flight lands — you'll help keep Europe green by riding the rails.
To help turn your green travel dreams into reality, Rick Steves' Eurail web pages are your most comprehensive resource for figuring out which kind of railpass best fits your itinerary and budget. And although railpasses cost pretty much the same everywhere (and include a basic timetable/map), only if you buy your pass from Rick will you get these valuable, trip-improving extras: his 4-hour Travel Skills DVD, a Europe Planning Map, and a 20%-off shopping spree in the Rick Steves Travel Store.