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Train Travel Feels Greener-ish.

Posted on May 18 2009 by Rob Moody

Last week, I took Amtrak from Charlotte to our nation's capital with a couple of green building items on my agenda. On Wednesday, I checked out an infill green development called the Capitol Quarter in southeast Washington near the Navy Yard; on Thursday, I attended the USGBC Federal Summit at the Ronald Reagan Building. Both should be great blog fodder, so stay tuned. Before I put the cart before the horse, however, I’ll talk a little bit about my chosen form of travel.

Passenger train is a pleasant, smooth way to travel: no seat belts; I don’t have to turn off and stow my portable electronic devices or secure my tray table; I have my own 120-volt outlet; and since BYOB is allowed, I brought along two Foster’s oil cans. I was pretty happy when I arrived at Union Station just in time for dinner at Ben’s Chili Bowl up on U Street.

Train travel is inherently less energy intensive than many other forms of travel. According to the Practical Environmentalist, other than rickshaw, horseback, and motorcycle, passenger trains are one of the most efficient types of travel in terms of carbon emissions. Most trains run on diesel, but hopefully in the near future, that could change to fuel cells. (The US Army is currently researching and testing fuel-cell—powered engines.)

In order for me to make this mass transit experience as green as possible, I offset the carbon produced by my trip by paying $4.50 to I offset 992 pounds of CO2, enough to allow me to travel guilt-free for 2,500 miles. That contribution goes toward funding renewable energy, energy efficiency, and reforestation projects. Carbon Fund is transparent and well vetted, and has several projects that are included in the Environmental Defense Fund’s high-quality carbon-offset projects.

Trains are also great sources of creative inspiration—the scenery, people-watching opportunities, and, oh yes, the confinement, which forces you to be a captive audience. On this trip, I was treated to a clown, an impromptu keyboard-and-tuba band in the cafe cart, and conductors with tons of heart and personality. I’ve posted some of my pics on my Flickr account.

Every time I have taken the train, I have been amazed by the sense of hospitality. As my grandfather always told me, conductors are true gentlemen, and that definitely held true for this trip. My grandfather individually took all of his children—my mom, aunts, and uncle—by train from Asheville, North Carolina, to Washington, D.C., for sightseeing trips when they were young. Unfortunately, the Asheville passenger train line was suspended years ago, but I will continue my grandfather’s tradition with my two daughters in a few years from the Charlotte station.

This romantic way of travel allowed plenty of time for me to work on blogs and various other work related tasks. Taking a second to slow down in this light-speed world and experiencing hospitality can encourage people to be nice to others. What better way is there than blogging about green building?

So this blog post is about green and nostalgia from a 40-foot view, but I am setting up the readership for some upcoming kickin’ green building content. I’ll chime in on the Capitol Quarter project, which includes market rate and workforce units that are LEED for Homes registered. I will also share info from the USGBC Federal Summit, trying to garner as much as I can about the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act as it pertains to green building. Look for updates on my Twitter account as well.

Image Credits:

  1. Rob Moody, Organic Think Inc

May 18, 2009 1:10 PM ET

Trains are cool
by John Brooks

Rob, I agree with your fondness for trains.
My new house is less than 2 blocks from a light rail station.
The new station is adjacent to the Interurban Museum.
In the early 1900's the electric railway was the way to go.
Many people would live in Sherman,Texas and commute to Dallas for work more than 60 miles away!

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