Slow travel

If you’ve been following my Twitter threads, you should be aware that I’m just back from a trip to Austria that I decided to do via train. The meeting was for a collaboration that developed after I spent some time in Vienna and my decision to travel by train was partly motivated by my giving a talk at a flight free event, and partly by me just wanting to see what it would be like.

TGV Lyria in Zurich Hauptbahnhof

I started my journey just over a week ago, by catching a local bus to Edinburgh’s Waverley train station, from which I got the West-Coast train to London. It would have been faster to go down the East-Coat mainline, but I was trying to minimise the costs. I spent the night in London and then caught the early Eurostar to Paris, getting to Paris at 10am. I had to get the Metro from Paris Gare du Nord to Paris Gare de Lyon, but it was pretty straightforward and I had plenty of time. I then caught the TGV Lyria from Paris to Zurich which – at times – was travelling at close to 300km/hr.

I had a couple of hours in Zurich and then had a Railjet train from Zurich to Innsbruck, getting there just after 10pm. The next morning I had a short train trip from Innsbruck to Brixlegg, and then a 20 minute bus ride to Alpbach, where our meeting was being held (the bus stop was actually right outside where I was staying). The meeting was pretty intensive, so I didn’t get much free time, but it was a beautiful venue.

The meeting ended at lunchtime on Wednesday, so I headed back to Innsbruck, had some time to look around, and then found a nice beerhall for dinner. I had a mid-morning train on Thursday from Innsbruck to Zurich, a mid-afternoon train from Zurich to Paris, and then an early evening train from Paris back to London. I then caught the early morning train on Friday back to Edinburgh and arrived back in time for our exam board meeting.

It all went pretty smoothly, there were no delays, and it was quite a relaxing way to travel. I’d certainly consider doing it again.

The emissions from train travel are substantially less than those from flying. My rough estimate was ~40kg of CO2 (train), versus around ~300kg of CO2 (plane). It is also a pleasant way to travel, you get to see the scenery, and can get some work done (I finished a draft of a proposal, finalised the talk I was going to be giving, responded to emails, and also managed to prepare somethings that I’d thought I might only be able to do this coming week). I also watched a few movies that I had downloaded.

Although the price of the train tickets wasn’t much higher than what I think it would have cost to fly (especially as I would probably have had to fly to a major city and then catch at least one train anyway), I did have to leave a day earlier, and come back a day later. So, there were essentially two extra days, and two extra hotels.

The Man in Seat Sixty-One… – a great site with all sorts of tips about train travel through the UK, Europe, and Worldwide.

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36 Responses to Slow travel

  1. Pingback: Slow travel — …and Then There’s Physics – New Horizon

  2. Just two more days, that is for beginners. 🙂

    For a meeting with my homogenization friends in Catalonia (from Bonn), I added a week of holidays in France to it. I stayed two days in Strasbourg and two days in Lyon. Was a really nice break. Many varieties possible until I tire of this, France is beautiful.

    Don’t tell anyone I flew back. On the flight from Barcelona to Bonn a pilot once killed himself by flying the aircraft into a mountain after closing the cockpit door on his co-pilot. The tickets on the evening of Friday the 13th are amazingly cheap and there was lots of space.

  3. Jon Kirwan says:

    You’ll need to add in the carbon generated by all the hotel support for two extra days plus whatever else you did during that time that may have increased your otherwise lower carbon footprint if you were back at home (such as dish washing for restaurant meals, etc.) Oh, and those movies which you probably would not have watched, otherwise!! Must be another few kg in there somewhere. 😉

  4. izen says:

    @- jon k
    “You’ll need to add in the carbon generated by all the hotel support for two extra days plus whatever else you did during that time that may have increased your otherwise lower carbon footprint if you were back at home (such as dish washing for restaurant meals, etc.)”

    Would a hotel not have a lower carbon footprint per person as the heating, cooking, and washing benefit from economies of scale ?

  5. David B. Benson says:

    aTTP, what was the travel time between Innsbruck and Zurich?

  6. Innsbruck and Zurich is 3 and a half hours, without transfers in the Railjet to Vienna and on to Budapest. There is one every second hour. It is a spectacular ride, the famous The Arlberg Railway.

    When I worked in Bern, I had a conference in Ljubljana, Slovenia, 11 hours. I had to take this train route, 🙂 although it was a bit risky, any missed connection would have resulted in getting stuck. In that respect almost like flying, without the usual flexibility of trains. It was totally worth it. Also the mountains between Austria and Slovenia are stunners.

  7. David B. Benson says:

    Thank you, Victor. Hard to believe how inexpensive it is.

  8. David B. Benson says:

    For comparison, Seattle to Spokane is about the same distance, also with a tunnel through the mountains. However, it takes the train 8 hours and the minimum fare is $45, US.

  9. David B. Benson says:

    Seattle to Spokane is 455 km by car and more by train. But not enough more to explain the 8 hour travel time.
    Zurich to Innsbruck is 295 km by car.

  10. David,

    aTTP, what was the travel time between Innsbruck and Zurich?

    It’s about 3.5 hours. [Edit: Missed that Victor had already answered this.]

  11. David B. Benson says:

    aTTP, thanks.

  12. dikranmarsupial says:

    Looking at the scenery is indeed one of the advantages of the train, but coastal greenland from an airoplane is pretty hard to beat (if it isn’t too cloudy).

  13. David B. Benson says:

    dikanmarsupial, I agree.

  14. It sounds like a train is a perfect way to travel if you have all the time in the world and nothing better to do. For people in a hurry. most of us most of the time, it sounds as a nightmare of time wasting. Traveling by train has to become way faster will it beat any mode of traveling other then going by bike.

  15. Going by plane is for people who feel busy, but apparently have all the time in the world. You are waiting all the time, to check in, to be let into the secure zone, for security, for boarding, for sitting, for take off, for landing, for deboarding, for your luggage, for your local transport. The times in between are mostly too short and the situation too crowed to concentrate. It may be a bit better than going by car, which is 100% wasted time beyond listening to a podcast.

    On the other hand, going by train is typically quality time for concentrated work.

  16. an_older_code says:

    I drove back from a skiing trip in Flachau (50 miles south of Salzburg) with my family (wife and 5 kids) last year – we left at 6.00am, we were home, (Cambridge) by 9.30pm that night, travelling back that day were my wifes parents family, who all flew from Salzburg – they arrived back home in Petersfield at 8.00pm – so pretty similar times, albeit they had a later start

    I suspect our trip was more C02 efficient than theirs (that’s what I told my children anyway – but happy to be corrected

    although clearly Skiing is a ridiculous sport on CO2 terms !!

  17. Susan Anderson says:

    The US refuses to join the world in fast efficient train travel. They’re paved over the tracks to make roads (Eisenhower is regarded as a hero for doing this so thoroughly). Even Boston to New York (240 miles) is 3 1/2 hours and $222. Cheaper take 4 1/2 hours. Local public transit is appalling, extremely expensive, crowded, and frequently broken. When money is spent, it goes to cars, roads, parking, etc.

  18. Mal Adapted says:

    Hi Susan,

    As usual, we agree on both facts and principles. Your take is accurate AFAICT, although outside some high-density corridors, greater average distances in the USA are a factor. I enjoyed the two trips I made between Spokane and Chicago in grad school, talking to interesting people and sleeping under a table in the lounge car – good times 8^). I love the Interstate highway system, though. I’d take a train or plane from one coast to the other, but for distances of up to 1500 miles I prefer to drive. It’s my personality. I love the feeling of freedom to stop anywhere I want on a whim, while enjoying personal solitude and scenic grandeur on this vast landscape of ours. I generally have driven fuel-efficient cars, but my cumulative transportation emissions are pretty high.

    We all do what we can, so I won’t embarrass us by signaling my compensatory virtue in detail. I am, to be sure, in favor of a national Carbon Fee and Dividend with Border Adjustment Tariff, as advocated by James Hansen inter alia. And of course I support an end to all direct and indirect subsidies for fossil fuels. IMHO, only market forces can motivate behavioral changes on the required scale. If driving gets more expensive, I’d be more inclined to take the train. Especially now that I’m retired, a coast-to-coast train trip with sleeping accommodations sounds appealing. Still, assuming the power of concentrated fossil fuel wealth can be somehow neutralized, capping AGW will require popular support for collective (i.e. government) intervention to internalize our emissions costs. My body ages, but hope springs eternal 8^}.

  19. Rail in the US is slow because they prioritize freight trains over passenger trains on the network. Those would be the long trains that remove thousands of heavy, fuel guzzling, trucks from the highway system. Moving more freight off of highways and onto rails (and into pipelines) is good environmental policy.

  20. Joshua says:

    > Rail in the US is slow because they prioritize freight trains over passenger trains on the network.

    That makes sense. Rail is faster in Europe and Japan because they have no freight to move.

    Rail in the US is slow because there isn’t the will or funding to improve rail. The reason for that is politicians and corporate lobbying.

    Or we could just say “butEcofascists.”

  21. Jon Kirwan says:

    @izen: “Would a hotel not have a lower carbon footprint per person as the heating, cooking, and washing benefit from economies of scale?”

    I suppose that would depend upon the lifestyle at home, wouldn’t it? In my case, I’m pretty sure the hotel — even with economies — will be worse. But where I live I grow almost all of what is needed for heating my home on my own land, grow about half of my own family food requirements, and rarely travel further than 6 miles away (and then, perhaps twice a week?) Since I average 4.2 miles per kW-hr, this means around 6 kW-hr per week on travel. My electricity comes from the Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River (I haven’t yet attempted energy generation here), though of course my usage causes others to get their energy elsewhere which does have a carbon impact. According to Oregon stat figures from 2018, I find my impact on others probably translates to something less than 6 pounds of CO2 per week for my travel needs. I never fly and haven’t since the late 1980’s. (I do have a pilot’s license, but the medical is long since expired and I doubt I will take it up as a hobby, now.)

    But others will have to speak for themselves, I suppose. That said, hotels I’ve experienced (or been in when visiting others) tend to be operated by customers with some lack of care about wasting heat or air conditioning energy while they stay. At home, they may behave a little differently.

    But I think your question is interesting. It would be difficult enough to formulate an approach that we would find useful for discussion. And I’d enjoy participating in such a discussion towards the end of coming up with appropriate measures and methods to then evaluate and change those measures where further investigation causes us to agree that they warrant modification.

    I didn’t readily find any truly good papers on the subject (in a short bit of searching.) So I’m tabling this as I have much else to do. But I’m curious, should anyone else find something good.

  22. Steven Mosher says:

    “Rail in the US is slow because there isn’t the will or funding to improve rail. The reason for that is politicians and corporate lobbying.”

    Consider the private venture ( evil capitalists finding a way around the evil politicians and evil corporatists who are thwarting our human right for faster faster trains)

    More evil private ventures

    Another private venture

  23. David B. Benson says:

    The Revenge of the Albatross:

    Clever. Hope that it helps.

  24. David B. Benson says:
    seems highly debatable. Why is not less warming better?

    This isn’t the right thread, but I couldn’t find a suitable one.

  25. izen says:

    “Consider the private venture ( evil capitalists finding a way around the evil politicians and evil corporatists who are thwarting our human right for faster faster trains)”

    Consider how many such projects have failed in the past.

    Consider that evil capitalists will only want to build passenger lines between a few destinations that will have a certain passenger occupancy prepared to pay high fares. They will build where it is likely to be most profitable, not where it is most beneficial to a wider community.

    Compare that with the building, improvement, and maintenance of roads. That is financed mostly out of general taxation (less than half from transportation) at the Federal and State level and the design choices are based on community needs and benefit, not any profitability of the network.

    So American roads are designed and built on a socialist model (because of lobbying from the car industry), but rail developments are constrained to evil capitalists pursuing profit.

    And that does not even touch on the historical lobbying and economic warfare that the automotive industry waged for roads and against long distance and commuter rail services.

  26. Susan Anderson says:

    The US had a good passenger train system in the early 20th century. It was entirely replaced by roads. There has been a recent effort to put a pipeline in an available corridor in northern New England (for Canadian oil (tar sands)), but I think it is being blocked by local resistance. I do follow this locally, and most state money goes to cars and servicing them. Chicken/egg problem; without convenient trains, cars/roads are hard to finesse.

    Izen does a pretty good job of summing it up. It’s a big country, and I was only talking about what is called the northeast corridor, where there actually are trains and potential customers, and Boston local public transit, which is a mess.

    Better to return to aTTP’s original subject, which is trying like Greta T to walk the walk (or train the train). Good effort.

  27. MarkR says:

    Flixbus is in parts of the US now. I’d pay more for rapid trains but for my regular LA-Arizona trips it’s the lowest carbon option. With the night bus followed by a long nap on arrival I can be awake and hiking in a canyon by 11 am. Flying would actually use up *more* of my awake time.

    They managed a pretty good clip up the I-5 to get me to AGU as well but that was 9 hours door-to-hotel, so flying would have saved a few hours. On the plus side I saved some taxpayer money.

    There are too many cultural barriers for me to think that coaches could make a serious difference in the US though, and policy choices effectively subsidise driving to such a degree that I can’t see that changing.

  28. “The US had a good passenger train system in the early 20th century. It was entirely replaced by roads.”
    Mostly correct. The interstate highway system moved a lot of people to cars, and the jet powered airliner moved a lot of people to airplanes (the government invested in a lot of airports too).
    If you have a limited number of tracks between cities with slower moving freight trains on them,(and the tracks are designed for those lower speeds) it’s tough to run fast trains on them. Investing in new tracks or rebuilding existing ones is an expensive bet that would reduce emissions. Moving more freight to the rails is an inexpensive bet that would reduce emissions.
    There’s another calculation- changing technology. If you think there will be widespread adoption of electric cars, how confident are you in an investment in rails? If you can run airliners throughout the northeastern corridor and between LA and San Francisco on biofuels or hydrogen, how urgent is the need for rails?
    Who wants to get stuck with the bill for high speed rail in a world where ATTP could fly to Austria in a half day or drive in a day without any CO2 emissions? He could do it now with a Tesla.
    The Northeast corridor has extensive passenger rail service, it’s even electrified. It also has buses. And highways and airports.

  29. Dave_Geologist says:

    Why is not less warming better?

    I presume it’s a DICE-type model David. Which apart from perhaps being over-simplistic and having questionable damage assumptions, is a financial (NPV?) optimisation. Scrapping a lot of infrastructure early wastes more money than we lose from the damage that that early scrappage could have prevented.

    There are also risks to early scrappage and heroic rollout of new products and infrastructure. See Current fossil fuel infrastructure does not yet commit us to 1.5 °C warming. The right-hand figure and temperature scale are the relevant ones. Instant net-zero in 2030 pretty much guarantees staying below 1.5°C warming. Extinction Rebellion are right about that. But you’d have to replace half the UK’s generating capacity in the next decade, kit that would normally last 40-50 years, some of which is not very old yet. The same in a thousand other areas.

    The purple curves are basically only net-zero investments after 2030, but let existing kit run until the end of its normal service life (that means China’s recent coal-fired power stations don’t disappear until 2060ish). Then replace with net-zero kit. That pretty much guarantees less than 2°C warming, but 1.5°C is 50/50. The wholesale scrappage of still-functional infrastructure would generate a huge negative financial value in Nordhaus’ model. And building all that new kit now rather than in 20 years time is a present cost which would have a lower NPC if deferred.

    Note also the short-term spike in the green upper bound. Intuitively I would associate that with the emissions involved in decommissioning all that kit and making and moving all the steel and concrete for the new kit. Electric cars, for example, don’t pay back their manufacturing CO2e until about 50,000 miles or kilometres (depending on how green the electricity is). I’ve seen the XR target compared to WWII, where at one point it was consuming half of the USA’s GDP. Squeezing 30-40 years’ investment into a decade, at a global scale, will have an emissions impact. In a worst case scenario, perhaps triggering a tipping point that could have been missed or at least deferred until 2100.

    Three different commitment types from 2018 and from 2030. a Constant 2018 forcing commitment (SSP2-2018-CONST; blue), committed temperature change owing to default retirement of current fossil infrastructure (SSP2-2018-MID; purple) and zero emissions commitment (SSP2-2018-ZERO; green) all assuming the SSP2 baseline emissions pathway until 2018. b As a, but with commitments beginning in 2030 (SSP2c-2030-CONST, SSP2c-2030-MID and SSP2c-2030-ZERO), and Nationally Determined Contributions implemented from 2020 (based on ref. 34). Shaded plumes show the 5–95 percentiles of the response under each scenario

  30. Ben McMillan says:

    I think the warming blip in the zero-emissions scenario is actually discussed in the article:
    “There is a chance of considerable warming in the short-term owing to a sudden loss of aerosol-induced cooling, particularly if aerosol-induced ERF turns out to be at the more negative end of assessed uncertainty ranges”

    Not the embodied carbon of renewables etc. At least for solar/wind, etc, the energy payback times are less than a year anyway, so getting any blip due to embodied energy at all would be practically impossible (especially a 10-year long one).

    I think that current embodied energy/carbon calculations for electric vehicles are rapidly going to turn out to be outdated and wrong, just like they were once solar panels became commonplace. Claims that payback times are 30 years were true at one point, but bandied around long afterwards.

  31. David B. Benson says:

    Dave_Geologist, thank you.

  32. Dave_Geologist says:

    Ah, you’re right Ben. I was going from memory and it was some time since I’d read the article. I wasn’t claiming 30 years. A graph of payback time that looked like the green peak would be less than a decade (roughly, from 2030 to the hump, but less for each individual contributor because they’d have staggered starts). The car one was for a recent VW claim of about 50,000 km, but that was presumably based on Germany’s high coal-fired generation stock and a slow retirement of that. OTOH places like the USA will still want to drive long distances in big electric SUVs, and they will still have cheap gas for power stations. An XR model would have 100% green electricity. And all-electric steel-making, and electric cement-making with CCS for the 50% of the CO2 that is emitted by the chemical reaction. But we all know that won’t happen by 2030.

    It does raise a question in my mind though about DICE etc. (which has been discussed on here before, but not that question). If you go through normal replacement cycles, it will come down to the relative embodied CO2e of wind vs. CCGT, etc., and probably be business-as-usual overall. If we decommission early and build new, there must be a finite impact. Maybe just the blip on the P50 curve though. But it would be interesting to know if anyone has modelled that explicitly. Intuitively, devoting 50% of a Western country’s GDP to decarbonisation over five or ten years should raise it’s non-heating/private-travel footprint by 50%. Especially if it’s a Green New Deal model, where you borrow or rely on growth and do it as an add-on, rather than as a hair-shirt with the sort of personal lifestyle sacrifices people made (had forced on them) during wartime.

    That’s not why we won’t go the XR route though – democracies won’t do it (those pesky voters), and China daren’t do it. It would need a Pearl-Harbour-scale shock, and nothing so far has even reached the level of the Anschluss.

    Anyway, enough O/T from me.

  33. David B. Benson says:

    George Monbiot recommends treating the climate as an emergency:

    Not just traditional “economic” thinking…

  34. Dave_Geologist says:

    Yes David. But what percentage of the population agrees, absent a Pearl-Harbour-scale shocker? 1%? 5%?

  35. David B. Benson says:

    Dave_Geologist, surely much less than 1%. 😦

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