Eddington Myth – Busted!

Sir Rod Eddington in defending his contentious proposal for a road tunnel has hit back at his critics, suggesting many had bought into “myths” about the green benefits of public transport. As reported in The Leader November 4, Sir Rod Eddington, said the transport debate was “surrounded by a series of myths”, such as the idea trains were always more environmentally-friendly than cars.

“Trains are much bigger than cars,” Sir Rod told a breakfast for youth charity Western Chances last Thursday. “A lightly loaded train is a lot less energy-efficient than a properly-loaded motor car.”

But Sir Rod has ignored the cost of creating the steel and plastic to make 1000 cars versus one train which is working all day long. And creating concrete to build all the roads and car parks at each end emits a lot of carbon.

Cars are almost never properly loaded. This is because the family wagon is a major purchase and often bought to tow a trailer for annual holidays even though a single occupant is typically driving to work.

Sir Rod is well aware how low occupancy rates are on our freeways during the congested peak periods. All attempts around the world to increase car occupancy rates have had poor results. Car pooling and transit lanes have had minimal impacts. Trains are always fully loaded in the peaks, but now even the three-carriage trains after 8 pm are fully loaded. So comparing a fully loaded car to a lightly loaded train is not relevant.

A more useful guide is to compare total carbon emitted by the road or rail network divided by the total people kilometres travelled over the course of a day, week or year. Then add in the emissions to create and maintain the trains, cars, road and railway networks.

Tim Flannery, in the last chapter of The Weather Makers argued that it is easier and quicker to make stationary electricity generators carbon neutral, than trying to get most cars to run on hydrogen. Then electric trains and trams would have an even bigger carbon advantage.

In a speech at the state library hosted by Monash Uni last September, Sir Rod said fuel efficient car technology could be exported to Asia to reduce carbon emissions there.

Is this a vision to abate climate change or a myth to protect the automobile industry from facing reality?

But research by Paul Mees shows we are going nowhere fast in car fuel efficiency. [Age, April 28, 2008]

ABS data shows that cars are no more fuel efficient than in the 1960s. While engine efficiency has increased since 1963, car size and extra features — air-conditioning, power steering and windows, safety and entertainment systems — mean petrol consumption per 100 kilometres has not budged. Freeways had also reduced fuel efficiency, Dr Mees said. “If you drive at 110 km/h, you use more fuel than if you drive at 70 km/h.”