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Fact Sheet 5: Fuel and Emissions: Trains compared with replacement express coaches and lorris (Metric)

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 Updated February 2013, New data
Wp ref Factssheet 05 2013 metric


The abstract of a paper by Mikhail V Chester and Arpad Horvath illustrates how vital it is to have dust to dust estimates of energy consumptions and emissions.  There we see the estimates of life cycle energy inputs and emissions in the USA add 63% to the tailpipe values for road vehicles, 31% for air and 155% for rail.

Instead of that, nearly all UK emission studies (including this one) deal with tail pipe emissions alone.  Consequently the conclusions drawn from those studies may be far from the truth.  However, our conclusion would be greatly strengthened if dust to dust calculations, using the Chester and Horvath parameters, were included.


The rail industry pretends to low emissions compared with road transport.  In contradiction to that we find that, given rail’s rights of way, replacement express coaches and lorries would:

  1. Save 32% of the fuel used by rail and emit 18% less carbon, if the fuel and carbon emissions associated with the lorries serving the rail freight terminals are ignored.
  2. Save 36% of fuel and 23% of the carbon, if the fuel and carbon emission associated those lorries are added to rail’s and avoided if the line haul is by lorry.

To suit the continental road vernacular we express energy in terms of litres of diesel and fuel consumptions in Km per litre.  UK Readers requiring a data in gallons and miles per gallon click here. (Note, gallons are UK gallons at 4.436 litres per gallon)

The sources

The sources and assumptions upon which this our calculations depend are:

  1. The Office of the Rail Regulator’s Year Book for 2010. It provides, in Table 9.1a, the electricity and diesel consumptions of passenger rail and of rail freight along with the emissions.  The year book, and the ORR data portal also provide passenger-km and tonne-km.
  2. The Digest of UK Energy Statistics.  This provides the energy burnt in power stations and the electricity delivered to end users.  The data enabled us to convert the electricity consumed by rail to the primary burn in power stations, see spread sheet, tab 2.
  3. An assumption that 10% of the energy content of the crude delivered to refineries would be used in the refineries and in transporting the diesel to filling stations and to the fuel tanks of trains or road vehicles.
  4. That express coaches on railway alignments would return 12 kms per Litre and that there would be an average of 25 passengers per coach.  In support of the fuel consumption figure we have the same quoted to us by a vehicle manufacturer.
  5. That lorries picking up from, or delivering to, rail freight terminals would carry 24 tonnes, return 8 kms per Litre and would travel 40 kms (ten kms in and ten kms out at each end of the rail journey).  This enabled us to add to the diesel consumed by rail freight to that used by the lorries which transport the freight to and form the rail freight terminals.
  6. That lorries replacing trains would carry an average load of 12 tonnes (24 tonnes out, back empty) and return 10 kms per Litre and that if the line haul were carried out by lorries then the drag in and out to rail heads would be avoided.  (Sometimes the line haul would be shortened and sometimes lengthened).


These are in the attached spread sheet which enables sensitivity tests to be carried out on items (3) to (6) above.


The table below, also available within the spread sheet, provides summary data for the year 2009-10.   Data for later year is awaited. 


2009-10 summary


Coach/ lorry

% reduction


% reduction


Passenger rail



Million litres












CO2  Ktonnes







Freight (a) – Excluding

drag in and out by lorry

Freight (b)  - Including

drag in and out by lorry


Million litres












CO2 Ktonnes







Passengers + freight (a)

Pass + freight (b)

Million litres






 CO2 Ktonenes






Note, as above, the above assumes that the net drag in and out to rail freight terminals vanishes if the line haul is by lorry.  If that is not the case see totals (a) rather than (b).

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