Passengers board a GWR train at Paddington Station  in London
The first-of-its-kind UK rail carbon calculator shows rail journey is the greenest transport choice. Reuters

Recently, a new carbon tool has brought into light how rail journeys within the UK are better for the environment than taking flights. The newly launched Green Travel Pledge carbon calculator proved researchers right when it showed that a London-Edinburgh train journey creates 13 times less emission than a London-Edinburgh flight.

This comes at a time when the travel industry is changing the way business travels with inventions like a new sustainable aviation fuel developed by an Oxford-affiliated company and organisations like the European Travel Commission vowing to halve their carbon footprint by 2030.

Why is this carbon calculator needed?

An article published in BBC in 2020 revealed the extent of the problem as a long haul flight generates 102 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometre whereas an intercity train journey emits 41 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometre per person.

A recent UK government report showed that the country emitted 99 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2020 when most of the world was shut down. Around 24 per cent of the emission came from the aviation industry in 2020.

In such a scenario it's crucial that people know about the efficiency of the system to make the switch.

The new carbon calculator displayed at the Business Travel Show Europe in London demonstrated how essential trains are in achieving the UK government's net-zero targets. Developed by the rail data company Fabrik and the sustainable travel specialist Thrust Carbon, the Green Travel Pledge carbon tool helps to calculate your travel carbon footprint. The Rail Delivery Group was also involved in developing this tool along with Fabrik.

Extensive way of measuring

The carbon tool takes into account various factors like the layout of the carriage, the number of seats filled up, the distance of the journey and the types of fuels used. Based on these yardsticks it was observed that 12.5 kilogram CO2e was emitted per passenger in a train journey between King Cross station in London to Waverley station in Edinburgh.

The carbon calculator measures CO2e rather than counting just carbon emissions. CO2e stands for carbon dioxide equivalent which takes into account the greenhouse gas emissions.

Upon comparing it to a flight journey between London and Edinburgh it was revealed 165 kilogram CO2e is emitted per passenger. This is 13 times higher than the train journey. When compared to a car journey the emission was found to be 10 times higher at 136.4kg CO2e. This clearly shows the eco-friendly nature of rail as a mode of transport over air and road.

The most accurate tool so far

Speaking about the new carbon calculator tool, the CEO of Rail Delivery Group, Jacqueline Starr, said that the preliminary results uphold rail travel as the most sustainable choice. Although the tool is in its initial stage of testing yet the result vindicates their standpoint and the company would like to help businesses in making smart and green travel choices.

The corporate world has been on the lookout for a tool that clearly demonstrates the environmental benefits of switching to train journeys for business purposes. With this carbon calculator, they can now take a leap of faith and shift to business travel by rail over cars and planes to reduce their carbon footprint

The Head of Product of Thrust Carbon, Kit Brennan, reiterated the same when he said that the corporate world always knew about rail being the greenest way to travel, and now they have the evidence. He highlighted the efficiency of the tool as it is the first time such detailed analysis is done, taking into account indicators like seat occupancy and carriage layout. This is the most accurate greenhouse gas emission tool.

Speaking about its accuracy and efficiency the CEO of the Business Travel Association, Clive Wratten, said that the consistency in carbon measurement will provide much-needed clarity regarding the robustness of rail travel.

The UK is planning to roll out this new rail carbon calculator tool across all train routes in the country by 2023 year-end.