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Well, someone answered yes and my brother texted me that I should write this up but I don’t feel like it.

So here comes the unreasonably short overview of the ideas I remember from the amateur article that I read! All numbers are my own and I spent hours drawing them out of thin air.

The stab of the article was that we can guess a public train earns something on the order of 8mpg (the weight of the passengers necessarily decreases this number but we will ignore that factor in both cases just because). At peak hours, if there are 100 people riding, then it essentially earns 800mpg. That’s awesome.

However, the issues that really hurt their green-ness are these:

  • They rarely run at peak efficiency.
  • Routes are usually less than direct and may be so bad as to be twice as long as the directions a passenger car could take.

Their competition for feeling smug about your carbon footprint are the hybrids (though if you actually had the wherewithal to do the calculations, it’s absolutely possible that standard-engine vehicles are still competitive with passenger trains). All the Priuses I’ve been in registered something around 45mpg average. So, during the same peak hours, each person sitting alone in their Prius is pulling down 45mpg for themselves and getting their asses kicked by the train person zipping along beside, beneath, or above them and smiling self-righteously down at the 800 on their calculator’s LCD.

But wait, biatch:

  • Personal cars don’t need to run anytime they are not needed.
  • The fleet of cars on the road grows and shrinks to fit pretty much exactly the desired number.
  • The cars can run almost door to door without unnecessary detours.
  • We haven’t even considered carpooling!

The long and the short of this whole argument is that we could, in an ideal world, achieve efficiency much greater than that of public train lines by ferrying 4-5 people in Prius packages to their destinations.

The broad category we’ve left unconsidered is buses, of course. Their ubiquitous stations offer far greater resolution in your choice of destination (this is a ridiculous sentence already) than trains and they offer benefits found in both mass and personal transit. I will leave them unconsidered because fuck it.

To me, the most interesting part of this entire debate I was following through a forums thread was whether this issue is relevant.

Much like my favorite debate to start among friends, the question you should take away from this all is whether or not efficiency is the reason we should be pushing trains in the US. If it is, then we should do the math and find out if we should just buy everyone hybrids instead. I don’t think it is the reason, though. It doesn’t consider the vast economic, cultural, and social effects a reliable national transit system have.

Numbers for thought.

- Matt (RNP)

(My favorite debate to start among friends begins by asking, “is selecting students with the most potential and providing them the means to achieve as much as possible the goal we should realistically have for our higher education?”)