A few weeks ago, I came across a report by Associated Press (AP) reporter Michael J. Snippen, "FAA wants info on bird strikes to be secret" (3/28/09). Evidently, the AP requested the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) database after an incident involving the US Airways jet which had to land in the Hudson River. Snippen reports that the FAA wants to keep where and how often commercial aircraft are damaged by hitting birds as they claim the public would "misinterpret" the information. To date, the FAA has failed to release the data and the request is "under review." The FAA did admit to an increase in bird-strike incidents, reporting 7,666 bird strikes in 2007 compared to 1,759 in 1990.
This reminded me of a concern I have had for quite some time about the impact of air travel on the environment.
I realize this is one of those untouchable subjects, perhaps more so than asking folks to give up their cars, but research clearly shows the environmental damage caused by aircraft should motivate us to eliminate, or at the very least curtail, air travel.
This goes against the grain as people want, or feel, they need to fly in order to visit family or friends, vacation overseas, or attend conferences or conventions. It is the most affordable and fastest mode of transportation, however there is no denying it is a major contributor to environmental pollution.
Commercial aircraft pump out 600 million tons of carbon dioxide every year. In addition, flying is more harmful to the atmosphere than driving since carbon dioxide, water vapor, and nitrogen oxide emitted by the aircraft directly enters the ozone layer. When these elements are released at ground level, water vapor and nitrogen largely evaporate.
We therefore need to find an alternative to air travel and an efficient railway system may be the answer.
Below is a statement from an Amtrak Position Paper (2002) that addresses this issue:
Society overlooked the potential advantages of a properly funded passenger rail system and the US bought "wholesale" into autos and airplanes as the preferred mode of passenger transportation. Congress began to subsidize these industries at the expense of the passenger rail industry.
This was a mistake for many reasons. In our rush to "progress" we did not recognize that our virtual sole reliance on the auto and airline industry portended some serious consequences for the country such as oil shortages, high energy consumption, pollution, congestion, high highway and airport costs via public funds and many other ills.
Not only does the government subsidize the auto and airline industry at the expense of the passenger rail system, but the airline industry also receives less obvious benefits. For example, aviation fuel is not taxed on international flights. In 1944, in order to promote the new aviation industry, an agreement made aviation fuel tax-free on international travel. This agreement remains in force to the present.
The fact is the United States has not kept up with the rest of the world in developing a viable passenger rail system. A study by the International Railway Journal reveals that the US ranks between Bolivia and Turkey with only $1.65 per capita spent on rail travel. In comparison, Switzerland's per capita rate is $228.29.
The information below addresses the question as to whether rail service could improve US carbon emissions.
More trains can help address the global warming problem. "Energy efficiency is a good proxy for emissions, and emissions per passenger-mile and ton-mile are lower for rail than for aviation, cars and trucks," said Ross B. Capon, executive director of the National Association of Railroad Passengers.
· Amtrak in 2003 consumed 18% less energy per passenger-mile than commercial aviation; 17% less than automobiles,
· Commuter rail was 22% more energy efficient than automobiles, and