One reason often put forward to build rail transit is that it will save energy. Lately, rail advocates have added the claim that it will reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Many people accept these statements without question. A recent NPR story argued that “part of the solution (to global warming) is light rail.” The Antiplanner previously noted a magazine that declared Portland the second-greenest city in the world partly on the strength of the reduced greenhouse gases emitted by its light-rail lines.
This week, the Antiplanner is going to look at these claims in detail. Today we will set up the problem. Tomorrow, we will look at actual energy consumption and CO2 emissions by various transit systems in 2005, the most recent year for which data are available. Later we will look at the construction costs of rail transit and examine energy consumption and CO2 emissions before and after light-rail lines are put into operation. Finally, we will compare rail transit with alternative policies that might be able to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions at a far lower cost.