The truth about the great high speed trains

The truth about the great high speed trains

It has always been said that railway transportation is the most energy efficient kind of transportation there is even though there are people still investing in other kinds that pollute more. The doubts around this statement came along the high speed outbreak. Many people sustain and keep doing so that high speed is an energy predator, is this true?

The HST (High Speed Train) and Energy Efficiency are supposed to be opposite terms.

To find the answer to this question, a European university specialized in railway engineering has started studying this topic.

Let’s start from the fact that transport in general is the “most energy consuming activity” in our country, ahead of homes and even industry, because of this, this sector, transport, is the one that more greenhouse gas emissions produces. The object of this study in Europe is to analyze which of the main means of transportation is the most consuming.

What is usual is that this kind of studies are done with approximate data or a pre-set average but his study has been done using real consumption and occupation data.

To obtain a higher degree of reliability, the biggest amount of data has been compiled from the three high speed lines in which the study is centered, just like the other means to which they are being compared. Inside the compiled data the study takes a look at the real occupation average to each of the analyzed transports, the real miles traveled and the real consumption that in the case of the train it has always been almost impossible to obtain. This way the study has become the most comparative and realistic vision there is up until now related to this matter.

A real comparison between a high speed train and a conventional railway train.

Image courtesy of Mariano Mantel on
Image courtesy of Mariano Mantel on


The report starts by comparing the energetic efficiency in the distance from one city to another by conventional railway and high speed railway. In this case, the speed of the last one is about 30% higher. However, according to data taken from the net energy at the start of the generating plant, the saving is of 15.7%.

There are a lot of factors that make part of those savings, highlighting a lower amount of stops or the designed layout to guarantee a bigger stability when running high speeds. It is also important to remember that there is less technology in some of the trains that were built more than 30 years ago, this also influences the energy consumption of the machines, any machine of today is built with an energy consumption awareness that didn’t exist 30 years ago.

However in order to reduce the technological factor consequences, there was another test performed in the same distance previously mentioned to both train lines, conventional and high speed directed to the width variable and the result was a saving of 7.4% using the new infrastructure.

By performing this single study, the “energy predator” name was discarded for high speed trains, but his study wouldn’t be complete if the two kinds of trains were not compared to other means of transport like the car, airplane or bus.

The railway compared to other means

Image courtesy of David Leiser on
Image courtesy of David Leiser on


The study was analyzed between the high speed lines, conventional lines, the car, the bus and the airplane in two different distances, we will call them Distance 1 and distance 2

  • The differences in the distances traveled between the 3 distances takes the same starting point for every transportation mean, adding the distances traveled to the stations and airports so the value obtained is closer to reality.
  • The most representative vehicle of each one of the analyzed transportation means
  • The real seizing of each vehicle has been analyzed as well, this seizing includes the real average occupation and the amount of miles traveled for the same distance.

The data per traveler is the following.

Distance 1

  • Car: 243.1 kWh of average energy consumption and CO2 emissions of 54.1 kg.
  • Bus: energy consumption of 53 kWh and 13.9 kg of CO2.
  • Airplane: 203 kWh energy consumption and 61.4 kg of CO2.
  • Conventional train: 49 kWh energy consumption and 12.7 kg of CO2 emissions.
  • High speed train: 36 kWh energy consumption and 9.4 kg of CO2 emissions.

The high speed train is clearly the most energy efficient transportation mean, plus the emissions are less for it as well.

Distance 2

  • Car: 283.3 kWh energy consumption and 63.1 kg de CO2 emissions.
  • Bus: 55 kWh average energy consumption and CO2 emissions of 12.8 kg.
  • Airplane: 234 kWh energy consumption and 70.9 kg of CO2.
  • Conventional train: consumed energy of 66 kwh and 17.1 kg of CO2.
  • High speed train: 53 kWh of energy consumed and emissions of 13.8 kg of CO2.

This is the longest distance and in the case of the high speed train it is the one with the most stops, despite this, the high speed train remains the most energy efficient and cleanest mean of transportation.

The results are clear, the most consuming vehicle is the car, this is the real “energy predator” and right after it is the airplane, so next time you choose to travel by car instead of taking the plain think about the fact that this is not a way you are helping the planet.


Sorry, comments are closed for this post.