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Go Green: Travel by Rail

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June 27, 2012

With school out many families may be considering taking a summer vacation. There are a number of ways to go green while traveling, but one item that is often overlooked is the transportation mode. If you are traveling longer distances you are probably considering flying, but there is another mode of travel that is more environmentally-friendly and honestly just plain fun – traveling by train.

My family and I recently took a small vacation to Chicago and decided to lessen our carbon footprint by traveling via Amtrak. Here area few reasons you may want to consider hitting the rails for your next summer vacation.

Carbon Emissions

According to Amtrak and the World Resources Institute (WRI) study, trains produce an average of 0.21 kg of carbon per passenger mile. This is compared to 0.35 kg of carbon per passenger mile for car transport and 0.48 kg of carbon per passenger mile for air travel. This comes from an average of between 8 and 12 MPG for an entire passenger train. Those are some pretty impressive numbers when you think about it. Not only are trains using energy more efficiently but they also can typically hold more passengers.

If you don’t believe Amtrak, according to U.S. Department of Energy data, Amtrak is almost 14 percent more efficient than domestic airline travel and 31 percent more efficient than auto travel on a per-passenger-mile basis.

Electric Trains

Amtrak is actually taking big steps in reducing their footprint even further with the introduction of electric trains. The Acela Express services New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and the Washington DC areas. These trains reduce energy consumption by an additional 8% over the already more efficient diesel train and use regenerative braking to help reduce the need for more energy. Essentially, as the train brakes, it returns some of the energy back to the engines for use.


Amtrak really does have a strong recycling policy. On all the trains we rode there were recycling receptacles in the snack cars. They encourage recycling and it extends beyond just the passenger trains. The train stations also have recycling bins and Amtrak itself recycles all their old parts such as steel, old mattresses from sleeper cars, cables, batteries, and even old oil. Amtrak recycles more than 9,800 tons of steel parts and scrap, 90 tons of wire, 225,000 gallons of used oil, and 300,000 pounds of paper from these facilities each year.

There are a number of initiatives to make traveling via train not only more enjoyable but more environmentally-friendly. I highly suggest looking into train travel for your next family vacation.

Have you ever traveled by rail with your family?

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