From The Dish:

Buses are the most climate-friendly mode of transportation per passenger mile next to walking or riding a bike. This makes sense: There’s no need to accelerate hundreds of tons of aluminum to nearly the speed of sound, or to push thousands of tons of steel along 19th-century rail routes. Even a Prius is dragging along lots of extra weight just to move you down the road, especially if you’re solo, as most car trips are.


From both a climate and financial standpoint, there’s a clear case to take the bus. From a butt-numbness standard, the bus isn’t quite there yet in the United States. However, the rise of limited-stop intercity operators like Megabus is helping the United States to quickly catch up to the rest of the world in terms of frequency and comfort on long-haul bus rides. In Chile, a spread-out country that has embraced long-distance buses, you can easily and cheaply snag a first-class quality experience with meals, Internet, live TV, and a lay-flat bed in every seat.


  1. I love traveling long distances by bus in Turkey where there are well maintained Mercedes buses and competing bus lines, conductors on the buses, great music, cookies and tea passed around on long rides, and of course lemon water to freshen up. When you arrive at a bus station the representatives of each bus line rush up to you to compete for your business. There is also bus etiquette, single young women and families travel on the left of the bus near the driver. I have been traveling in Turkey for twenty years, and have never seen a system as comprehensive, safe and clean. I have also driven around the entire country, but you cannot beat the bus for the ride and cultural experience.

    We have a long way to go to make North American long distance rides as pleasant.

  2. Which also demonstrates how backward the US – and Canada – is compared to most of the rest of the world in its passenger railways. Electric powered high speed trains have far lower emissions per passenger kilometre – and are very much faster, of course. If we are indeed going to “catch up to the rest of the world” this is the mode where it needs to happen

  3. Gordon, please can you tell me where you got this graphic from? It’s not the link to the Sightline Institute that you give. I take my carbon emissions very seriously and always use coaches/Amtrak so would be interested to see where this 70 hour train journey is going to/from.

    To LA and back from Seattle is 71 hours and the cost if you left on Monday and returned Wednesday (or any date in the next two weeks) would be $230. Leaving tomorrow (weekends are always more expensive) would be $30 more, so it can’t be that journey. Where is this expensive train? Perhaps they’re including the sleeper?

    Something the travel calculus leaves out is that using a service means it’s more likely to flourish and survive. If you want efficient and frequent trains and coaches, you have to use them!

  4. Here’s the actual link:

    But more specifically, the author was traveling from Madison, Wisconsin to Atlanta, Georgia. This particular trip is really poorly served by Amtrak. There are no direct routes whatsoever between Madison and Atlanta, and Amtrak suggests that one:

    1) take a bus to Chicago (4 hours)
    2) take the Capitol Limited to DC (18 hours)
    3) take the Crescent to Atlanta (another 14 hours)

    For many other corridors, the train is much better than a plane and comparable with bus in terms of efficiency.

    Although it would of course help if we actually had a robust rail network in this country and decent all-day high-speed service.

  5. It is past time to bring in fast electric passenger trains across North America. But to do this quickly and economically we need to phase out the dirty coal and extreme (fracking and tar sands) oil that now takes up much of the track time. Fast, reliable passenger trains do not have to be the super expensive ‘high speed’ type with dedicated tracks that only make sense on the busiest routes.

    Highway bus service should also be greatly improved, and connect seamlessly with the rail network.

  6. Like Eric said we don’t need bullet trains and their multi-billion dollar tracks criss crossing North America. Everyone I’ve met professionally in the US north east takes the train. It’s only an hour from one city to the next and you can work on the train.

    I looked into Vancouver-Anaheim (Disneyland) by Amtrak.
    We’d need to take a taxi in the middle of the night to the bus depot, get on an international bus at 5:30am, hopefully meet the Amtrak leaving Seattle at 9:00, ride all day, all night and most of the next day, hang around Union Station for a couple of hours waiting for the train to Anaheim, try to make a connection to our hotel around 22:45 and hopefully get everyone cleaned up and into bed before midnight. 44 hours of continuous travel that we’d have to repeat to get home.

    The more civilized but more expensive option involves staying overnight in both Seattle and Santa Barbara making the journey 4 days in each direction.

    Travel by bus in the USA is very inexpensive, but that’s been achieved through low pay, long hours and lax maintenance. You might be safer aboard a bus in Afghanistan.

    1. Let me reframe this journey for you (having done many times).

      5.30 bus (yes, it is hard to get to if you live more than 30 mins away from the station) always meets the 9.35 Coast Starlight and they will hold the train if it is ever late, so there’s no ‘hopefully’ involved. In the many dozens of times I’ve done this, the bus has never been late.

      Once your on board you can sit upstairs in the 1950s parlour car armchairs, watch movies downstairs in the theatre, play any of the board games in there for passenger use, go to the lounge car for the Trails and Rails talk by the Park Service, go to the wine and cheese tasting every afternoon, get out at many stations and walk around. You even have time to walk to the Pearl District when in Portland. All this is included in the fare.

      You can drink the champagne you get on boarding, the endless free coffee, juice and eat the fruit. You could visit the parlour car bar, or take a shower or watch the wonderful scenery of Oregon as you go over the pass and the spectacular Big Sur coast while having your meals in the diner. The beauty of the west coast is laid out for you to see and get a sense of how big the country is – this is a long journey and you traverse many climate regions.

      The wait in Union Station LA, for the Pacific Starlight is just over an hour. The station itself is beautiful, as are its gardens. There are hotels close (walking distance) to the station in Anaheim.

      Of course all this assumes you will have taken a sleeper for yourself and children (where of course everything I’ve mentioned is included). Probably more expensive that way than flying, but some (climate change) costs aren’t included in the air fare, and is the a price on the understanding of how far away Anaheim actually is?

      For someone who flies, scenery is just something that’s in the way between where they are and where they want to get to…..

      1. It sounds wonderful, but I’ve only got a week off work so I can’t afford to lose 4+ days to travel. Besides, my wife vetoed the whole idea the moment she heard the departure/arrival times.

    2. like david, for instance 😉

      remember that driving non-SOV will make a car more advantageous carbon-wise.

      or one could fly.

  7. I don’t think that this – There’s no need to accelerate hundreds of tons of aluminum to nearly the speed of sound, or to push thousands of tons of steel along 19th-century rail routes – can be right. At slower speeds, the constant speed changes do take energy, but at faster speeds air friction consumes the most energy. So at speed, the bus and the train are really fighting air friction more than anything. And it would seem like trains would have the advantage in this department. Not to mention that most passenger rail is electric powered. And for aircraft, it does take energy to accelerate all that weight and haul it up 10km into the sky, but again, most of the fuel is spent providing lift and fighting air friction along the way.

    The electric motors on trains are significant as well, even with coal generated electricity. Internal combustion engines don’t turn much of their energy inputs into useful work. Jet engines are better, but still not great. But electric engines turn about 90% of their energy inputs into useful work. Even electricity generated from a 35% efficient coal fired plant will be more efficient than an internal combustion engine.

    1. Steel whell on steel rail has far less friction than rubber on tar road. Another reason why mass transport of heavy or voluminous material, including large number of passengers, by train is better than by truck or bus over long distances ! It is pure physics.

  8. By the times indicated, this example is likely for a cross-country US trip, which certainly biases it against the train given that transcontinental trains are carrying a lot of weight in amenities (dining cars, sleepers, etc.) and so have a relatively low density of passengers vs. a bus. And, as Stephen points out, the use of slow, diesel trains for passenger transport is generally highly outmoded worldwide

    It would appear that a better comparison would be for intercity trips of a duration that makes sense for train or bus, i.e., no longer than 12 hours. It’s also worth noting that short-haul air is especially inefficient and has higher GHG/km so the use of a long trip in the example is a bit of a pro-air bias.

    1. I started writing the above before seeing the post about the trip being Madison-Atlanta.

      Anyway, the German rail trip planner has features the DB Environmental Mobility Check for GHG comparisons – GHG emissions for both plane and car are 9-10 times those of the train for a Frankfurt-Berlin trip, including production of fuel & electrical power. Even a Hamburg-Copenhagen trip on a diesel-powered train is 3-4 times better than air and car.

    2. The actual weight of the train doesn’t matter that much. Yes it takes more energy to accelerate and haul it up hills, but once it’s at speed, only friction matters and the friction will be the same for objects of the same shape.

  9. Exactly how are these comparisons apples to apples?

    26 hours of driving may cover the distance from Vancouver to Regina or Winnipeg, but by flying, that’s certainly not 10 hours, being generous for to/from and check-in (it’s more like 3-4 hours).

    The chart is seriously misleading if you are meant to compare emissions across a row.

    I can’t vouch for train travel or bus travel for similar distances.

  10. True for medium distances like Vancouver Kelowna or Calgary Edmonton

    Not so true for 10-12 h drives like Vancouver Calgary or Edmonton Winnipeg

    Climate issues are irrelevant for Canada, a huge cold country that actually benefits form alleged climate warming.

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