You’ll have to click on the picture to really be able to read it, but the text on the cup reads “Rail Consumes Less Energy Than Cars Or Air Travel.”
Yes, I know that there’s irony in the fact that I’m touting this blurb which appears on a plastic cup. Deal with it. Enjoy the fact that it’s next to a solar-powered battery charger, if it makes you feel better.
I don't want to hype Amtrak's "green" initiatives too heavily. Obviously, they have a self-interest in promoting their good attributes while downplaying less attractive ones. I'll let Amtrak's own link speak for itself, both for the data it provides and for the disclaimer that such self-promotion requires. I'll limit my focus to the claim made by the cup itself: that rail "consumes less energy" than other forms of travel. Although precise figures vary, this basic claim seems to be borne out quite readily. In fact, rail is still responsible for a huge share of America's freight transport, as it is cheaper to transport materials by rail than by other means. Part of the reason it's cheaper is because of the lower energy consumption that rail requires.
A great many posts celebrating Earth Day will no doubt invite readers to sacrifice on behalf of better environmental stewardship. This is a good and noble thing. However, I have long maintained that, if the sacrifice is too one-sided, it will never be undertaken by enough people to make enough of an impact. We simply must do better about promoting the benefits of taking care of the Earth.
This definitely can be seen with rail travel, as well. I chose to travel via Amtrak for several reasons:
- I didn't want to use my car (which, while drivable, is currently in need of repairs) for a multi-hour trip
- It was comparatively inexpensive (and, indeed, since I was traveling alone, it was considerably less expensive than driving would have been)
- I didn't think it was worth bothering with the long lines and security protocols that air travel would have required (to say nothing of the expense!)
- As I suggested last week, I happen to find rail travel to be an enjoyable experience that allows me to do other things while I travel.
There are, I'm convinced, ways around this. I'm a huge fan of high-speed rail such as is found in Japan and Europe. Faster commute times equals more trains able to use the existing rails at different times of the day, and thus greater flexibility. I think it's scandalous that this technology hasn't found wider support here in America. While there are obviously detractors, this technology not only has a proven effective track-record, but is improving all the time. I'm also a proponent of light-rail for more local traffic, and eagerly await the day when the promised train to a station mere blocks from my current home finally arrives (it's been delayed by legal action, mostly from an odd combination of a landowner who doesn't live remotely close to here and NIMBY response from folks who actually don't live as close to the would-be station as those of us who support it).
But since these ideas aren't yet widespread, people don't actually know how convenient they can be. That's true for a lot of good, environmentally-friendly ideas out there. We need to do a better job of promoting the benefits of such ideas, not just the sacrifice required.