Comparison of Passenger Rail Energy Consumption with Competing Modes

Lower fuel and energy consumption as well as lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions per passenger trip are frequently cited benefits of passenger rail in comparison with other, competing travel modes. Yet these benefits are not well documented nor are procedures for measuring them well delineated. Many currently available analyses of energy and GHG emissions reduction impacts of passenger rail service have significant shortcomings: (1) Passenger rail fuel consumption data may not fully represent impacts, since they are based on broad averages that include many different variations in distance traveled, amenities provided, speeds, operating environment, type of train operated, and form of propulsion. Similarly, energy consumption estimates for competing modes usually represent broad averages that do not necessarily reflect the energy profiles of comparable trips on modes that compete with passenger rail service accurately. (2) Using disaggregated data, linked more directly to where and how the fuel and energy attributable to specific trips is consumed, can provide a greater understanding of what is actually occurring. In addition, significant variations in fuel and energy consumption can occur by regions of the country and by individual states and metropolitan areas, and these variations should also be taken into account when analyzing comparable modes of travel, along with specific characteristics of available technologies and operating environments. (3) The pace at which new energy technologies may be put into service differs markedly between passenger rail and competing modes. To date, in the passenger rail industry, decisions about train types and operating patterns have not been strongly influenced by energy use and efficiency concerns. Instead, many technology and operations decisions have been motivated primarily by safety concerns, the ability to use proven equipment designs, initial implementation costs, and the need to work within existing operating and infrastructure constraints. In contrast, competing modes may be moving more aggressively to reduce energy consumption. There is a need for research to (1) compare fuel and energy consumption between representative door-to-door rail trips and comparable trips by competing travel modes and (2) provide guidance for potential energy savings in the future. The objective of this research is to provide like-for-like comparisons of energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions for commuter and intercity passenger rail operations and for competing travel modes. To accomplish this objective, the research should include, but not be limited to, developing: (1) An analytical framework for equivalent comparison of mode-to-mode fuel and energy consumption and GHG emissions, applied to case studies using disaggregated data (scope 1 and scope 2 emissions only, as defined by The Climate Registry); (2) A quantitative decision-support tool for evaluating and comparing fuel and energy consumption and GHG emissions by commuter and intercity passenger rail operations and by competing modes of transportation for comparable trips; and (3) An evaluation of opportunities to improve fuel and energy efficiency and reduce GHG emissions for intercity and commuter passenger rail.


  • English


  • Status: Active
  • Contract Numbers:

    Project 02-01

  • Sponsor Organizations:

    Federal Highway Administration

    1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
    Washington, DC  United States  20590

    American Association of State Highway & Transportation Officials

    444 North Capitol Street, NW, Suite 225
    Washington, DC  United States  20001

    National Cooperative Rail Research Program (NCRRP)

    Transportation Research Board
    500 Fifth Street, NW
    Washington, DC  United States  20001
  • Project Managers:

    Goldstein, Lawrence

  • Performing Organizations:

    TranSys Research Limited

  • Principal Investigators:

    English, Gordon

  • Start Date: 20130517
  • Expected Completion Date: 0
  • Actual Completion Date: 20141115
  • Source Data: RiP Project 37795

Subject/Index Terms

Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 01545069
  • Record Type: Research project
  • Source Agency: Transportation Research Board
  • Contract Numbers: Project 02-01
  • Files: TRB, RiP
  • Created Date: Nov 25 2014 1:01AM