The Environmental Impact of Cars and Trains

© Andy Singer -

© Andy Singer -

Vehicles impact the environment in numerous ways from their production, use and disposal. Below are some of the ways vehicles harm us and our environment.


Manufacturing vehicles is harmful to the environment. The average U.S. vehicle (in 2007) required 1129 gallons of gasoline to produce. That’s equivalent to two years worth of gas bought by the typical driver and that’s before the car has ever hit the road. The hybrid Prius is minimally better, requiring 1065 gallons of gas to produce.

It isn’t just the gasoline consumed during vehicle production that pollutes the environment. According to,

Environmental impacts start with mineral extraction and the production of the raw materials that go into the parts of a car. For example, iron ore gets turned into steel, which now accounts for most of the mass in vehicles…. The lead and acid in batteries are poisonous and dangerous…. Some degree of pollution is associated with all of these components, much of it due to the energy consumption, air pollution, and releases of toxic substances that occur when automobiles are manufactured and distributed.


The average U.S. passenger vehicle uses 575 gallons of gasoline yearly. Hybrids, such as the Prius, guzzle about 255 gallons of gas a year.

Gasoline-powered cars emit the following greenhouse gases and pollutants:

- Benzene.

- Carbon dioxide (CO2).

- Carbon monoxide.

- Nitrogen dioxide.

- Polycyclic hydrocarbons.

- Sulphur dioxide.

About a third of all U.S. energy-related greenhouse gas emissions comes from transportation, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, with carbon dioxide making up 63 percent of the greenhouse effect. For every burned gallon of gasoline, almost 9*10-3 metric tons of carbon dioxide are produced. The average American household produces 11.7 tons of transportation related carbon dioxide every year, according to a 2003 U.S. Energy Information Administration report.

After Life

Even after cars’ lives end, their materials continue to pollute our environment. Lead, nickel, and other hazardous materials are in car parts and batteries, leaking into the ground as they sit in junkyards and landfills.

The Environmental Toll of Our Deficient Train System

Train systems are not something the U.S. is known for, unlike Asia and Europe. As a matter of fact, it isn’t an exaggeration to say that our train travel options are non-existent. When we do have the option to travel by train, we find it is either more expensive or comparable in price to travel by plane or car, which in many cases involves half, if not less, of the travel time of a train. European and Asian countries do not necessarily see price similarities or huge differences in travel time (unless the distance is exorbitant). The reason for these price and travel time discrepancies is mostly due to the fact that there aren’t many routes or a high usage of trains in the U.S.

While we all harp on the economics of it, we seem to forget the toll that plane and vehicle travel has on the environment when compared to train travel, which holds more passengers and emits substantially less CO2. It is difficult to know how plane versus train travel differs in the United States because of the lack of a sufficient train system. However, here is information comparing the two types of travel to routes from London to popular destinations in Europe from

CO2 Emissions Per Passenger

By Plane

By Train


Roundtrip Time

Roundtrip CO2 Emissions

Roundtrip Time

Roundtrip CO2 Emissions

Train Compared to Plane CO2 Emissions

London to Paris

3.5 hours

244 Kg

2.75 hours

22 Kg

91 % less

London to Edinburgh

3.5 hours

193 Kg

2.5 hours

24 Kg

87 % less

London to Nice

4 hours

250 Kg

8 hours

36 Kg

85 % less

London to Barcelona

4.5 hours

277 Kg


40 Kg

85 % less

London to Amsterdam

4 hours

136 Kg


27.2 Kg

80 % less

London to Dublin

4 hours

174.8 Kg

8 hours

46.8 Kg

73 % less

London to Tangier

5 hours

435 Kg

48 hours

63 Kg

85 % less

An article on purported that the CO2 emissions of traveling alone by car over long distances were almost as bad as airplane emissions.

As is very clear, train travel produces considerably less CO2 in the environment than both passenger vehicle and plane travel; and seeing how CO2 contributes to the greenhouse effect by over 60 percent, this means something significant to the way our travels affect the environment.

The U.S. currently has plans to expand our train systems. However, to realize the environmental benefits of train travel in the U.S. will involve massive expansion; it isn’t an overstatement to say that to fully realize these benefits will take to decades, if not our lifetime. Until then, the U.S. will continue to use vehicles and planes as our primary means of travel.

Andy Singer -

Andy Singer -

Gina Williams is a guest post and article writer bringing to us information on the environmental impact of vehicles and an insufficient train system in the U.S.

Gina also writes about various topics like “electric cars versus gas powered cars“.

One Comment

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  1. […] to save money. Sadly, both cars and airplanes are substantially more harmful to the environment; see this Carbusters’ article for a chart that demonstrates the effects of all three forms of transportation on the environment. […]

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