Why Trains?

Trains are more energy-efficient and better for the environment

Building a high-speed passenger train between Los Angeles and San Francisco would result in saving the equivalent of 2 million barrels of oil in 2020.[1]

Freight trains are several times more energy-efficient than trucks, because 1) the rolling resistance of the steel wheels of trains is lower than that of truck tires on the road, and 2) trains encounter less proportional wind resistance than trucks since a train car is partly shielded from the headwind by the car in front of it.

Railroads now move a ton of freight nearly 410 miles for each gallon of diesel fuel used, up from 235 miles in 1980 and 332 miles in 1990. A truck, on average, moves a ton of freight about 100 miles for each gallon of diesel fuel, and emits 3 times as much pollution.[2] Trains can carry heavier loads than trucks, and several trucks would be required to carry the equivalent amount of cargo that a single railcar can carry. The average fully-loaded truck does as much damage to pavement as 9,600 automobiles.[3]

Trains are Safer

Taking trucks off the road saves wear and tear on our roads and reduces danger to automobile traffic. Large trucks are involved in fatalities at about twice the rate of motor vehicles on a per-mile basis.[4]

One’s chances of dying as a result of a crash while driving or riding a passenger auto is about 35 times higher than while riding train and 15 times higher than when riding a bus, on a per-mile basis.[5]  If one includes injuries and not just deaths, the differences would be even more striking. When riding a train, one avoids road rage, and if you are tired and happen to doze off momentarily, there’s no mortal danger.

Trains carry more people

The key to reducing traffic congestion is to transport more people in a way that takes up less space.  Trains can carry several hundred people.  Imagine that you’re stopped at a traffic light and have to wait for 500 hundred single-occupancy automobiles go by before the light changes for you. How many lanes do you think would be required for all 500 cars to cross in ten seconds? Now imagine a five-car train carrying 500 people zipping across the intersection in less than ten seconds. That’s the difference.

A double-tracked rail line has the capacity to carry as many passengers as a twelve-lane freeway going in one direction. [6]  Which would you rather have going through your community?

Trains improve quality of life

Driving, say, 30 miles round trip for one’s daily commute can be wearisome, not to mention expensive. AAA calculates the average cost to be 52.2 cents per mile, or $7,834 per year based on 15,000 miles of driving.[7]  While riding a train, one can relax, read a book, learn a foreign language, make new friends, take a nap, and many other activities. Many riders comment on how their commute via rail is less stressful than having to drive the same distance.

See also our Why We Need Transit and What’s Needed to Make it Work page


[1] California High-Speed Train Final Program EIR/EIS, Table 3.5-7, p. 156
[2] CSX, CSX and the Environment page
[3] Citizens Research Council of Michigan report, p. 21 (p. 8 of pdf), citing 1984 AASHTO Report
[4] PHSMA Office of Hazardous Materials Safety, table, “A Comparison of Risk: Accidental deaths – United States — 1999-2003”.
[5] Air Transport Association, table, “US Passenger Fatalities Per 100 Million Passenger MIles”
[6] Center for Transportation Excellence
[7] American Automobile Association, Your Driving Costs 2006.