New emission data shows rail travel emits 10 times less carbon than car travel

17 July 2023 by Johnny Goldsmith
blog author

​Innovative technology to calculate travel carbon emissions has highlighted rail travel as kinder to the planet with 10 times less CO2 releases, compared to driving a car.

The carbon calculations form part of the Green Travel Pledge, an initiative from the rail industry, which will provide businesses with carbon calculations by the end of the year to empower business leaders to make more informed travel choices.

Calculations were based on travel, per passenger, from London to Edinburgh and studied flight travel too, which emitted 13 times more carbon than a train.

How will the data help the environment?

The rail data, which assesses several factors including journey distance and fuel type is expected to provide an industry benchmark to measure rail carbon and demonstrate its environmental benefits.

The initiative is led by the Rail Delivery Group on behalf of the rail industry, in collaboration with Great British Railways Transition Team, Thrust Carbon, Fabrik and Black Box Partnerships.

Data shows an equivalent journey from London King’s Cross Station to Edinburgh Waverley Station produced 12.5kgCO2e of carbon emissions per passenger by train, compared to 136.4kgCO2e by car and 165.1kgCO2e by plane.

Currently, emissions for this type of distance are calculated at nearly half the figure considered to be a standard measure by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra).

Travelling wisely to boost ESG credentials

Jacqueline Starr, CEO at the Rail Delivery Group, said: “We want to empower businesses to make greener travel choices. Businesses have been asking for a tool to demonstrate the environmental benefits of shifting business travel journeys from planes and cars to rail. We are now delivering this.

“We are really excited to be rolling out accurate and reliable carbon emission data for rail routes across Britain as part of our Green Travel Pledge later this year so businesses can accurately demonstrate how rail travel is helping them to reach their environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals.”

Kit Brennan, Founder and Head of Product at Thrust Carbon which assisted with development of the methodology behind the new rail carbon calculations, said: “Businesses always knew that rail was the greenest way to travel; but for the first time we now know just how much greener it is.

“This is the first time we’ve combined such granular data on occupancy, journey distance, carriage layout and a number of other factors to provide an accurate and reliable figure for greenhouse gas emissions.

“We are excited about expanding the rail carbon calculator to include rail routes across Britain to support businesses to travel more sustainably in future.”

Clive Wratten, CEO at the Business Travel Association (BTA), said: “We’ve heard loud and clear from our members and the business travel community, that consistency in carbon measurement is an imperative.

“This initiative from RDG on behalf of the whole rail industry has the potential to provide clarity and a robust green message to all parts of business travel.”

Jonathan Goldsmith, Head of Transport & Infrastructure, Acre - UK, said: “Rail travel should be fully embraced to reduce our carbon footprint whenever possible as businesses conduct more physical meetings, in addition to the virtual ones we relied heavily upon over the past three years.

“Awareness of increased emissions when driving a petrol or diesel-powered car is one thing, but now there is solid evidence to support the fact that rail travel creates 10 times less carbon emissions in comparison - a sure-fire way to ensure we are more mindful of our modes of travel.

“I applaud the innovations that empower businesses to make more sustainable travel decisions, such as the award-winning technology and intelligence from Thrust Carbon, which demonstrates the importance of utilising accurate and impactful data.”

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