Screen Shot 2019 04 04 At 1.07.54 Pm

Chart of the Day: Energy Intensity of Transportation Modes

I am a sucker for energy use and intensity charts. Looking at CO2 emissions is one thing, but total energy use is an even broader way to think about how our society gets around. That’s why I think energy charts are fascinating, and you should too. Just check out this one or this one or this one and tell me you don’t get hooked…

Anyway, Citylab’s Andraes Hoffrichter had a good article the other day looking at energy use for different transportatio modes in the US, especially comparing freight vs. transportation energy uses.

Check out this chart:

Screen Shot 2019 04 04 At 1.07.48 Pm

Hoffrichter writes about how US transportation efficiency compares to Europe, and for transportation energy inputs there’s a big difference in emphasis. Here’s how he sums it up:

The primary difference between Europe and North America could be summarized like this: In America there is a freight rail system with some passenger, while in Europe there is a passenger rail system with some freight—the emphasis is different.

A further difference is that the rail network is private in the U.S. and operated to yield a profit, while in most other countries the rail infrastructure is owned by the government (similar to the freeway system in the U.S.) and heavily subsidized.

The conclusion centers on ways we could begin to reduce our energy inputs for passenger transportation without sacrificing our efficient freight system. (See below.)

In other words, US passenger rail is currently abysmal:

When journey times are less than four hours, people usually prefer to travel by train instead of alternative options, such as air or road. For many corridors in the U.S. it would be necessary to upgrade existing lines or to build new infrastructure to achieve competitive journey times.

For the high-speed rail projects in California, which the state recently decided to scale back, and Texas, where trains would be able to travel at speeds of 200 miles per hour or more, those states are building new infrastructure. Higher-speed options often allow existing rail tracks to be upgraded to accommodate speeds of around 110 miles per hour to around 125 miles per hour, and such projects are being implemented in Florida and the Midwest.

Fun chart, regardless! Big cars are bad.

PS. Hoffrichter has another chart in there worth a glance, too.

Screen Shot 2019 04 04 At 1.08.10 Pm

Bill Lindeke

About Bill Lindeke

Pronouns: he/him

Bill Lindeke has writing blogging about sidewalks and cities since 2005, ever since he read Jane Jacobs. He is a lecturer in Urban Studies at the University of Minnesota Geography Department, the Cityscape columnist at Minnpost, and has written multiple books on local urban history. He was born in Minneapolis, but has spent most of his time in St Paul. Check out Twitter @BillLindeke or on Facebook.