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ASA COMPLAINT ref National express in the New Scientist

ASA COMPLAINT ref National express in the New Scientist                                                                                     Ref: ASA/Complaint 01b

Submitted by Transport Watch June 28th 2008

National Express placed a full page advertisement; copy attached, in the New Scientist on 24th May, The Week on 31st May, and variously in the Sunday Times and other papers. The advertisement shows a picture of a plane and a train.  The caption beside the plane said “Wha-hey, look at that carbon go!” The caption by the train said “Significantly lower carbon emissions with National Express East Coast Trains”.  The advertisement says it is supported by a report by Best Foot Forward, with the title “Determining the carbon footprint of the East Coast line and alternative transport modes”, here referred to as the BFF report. 

We say that the advertisement and the supporting BFF report are misleading, wrongly suggesting to the public that (a) the emission per passenger-km by high-speed train are certainly much less than by short haul aircraft when the reverse may often be the case. (b) travelling by East Coast Main Line will emit very much less carbon dioxide than cars or, by implication, any other mode of transport (c) the BFF report is independent.

Before giving our detailed reasons we note that the RSSB, in its paper on Energy Metrics, points out on page 10 that any large-scale increase in electricity demand would prolong the life of coal-fired power stations. Hence it is argued that it is the emission from coal-fired generation that is relevant, not the average for the industry as a whole.  Our calculations in Appendix 1 of Facts Sheet 5 attached shows that coal-fired generation produces nearly double the carbon emission compared with the generating industry average.  In this complaint we present emission for electric rail on two bases, namely basis (A) the average per GW-h delivered for the generating industry as a whole and basis (B) the emission that relates to coal-fired generation.

The basis for our objection is as follows:

  1. The advertiser claims that the supporting BFF report is independent and that it can be found on report.  Firstly the report is not on that web site and secondly the report is not “independent”.  Instead it was commissioned by the advertiser.
  2. Unless large numbers transfer from air to rail or the reverse the schedules would remain unchanged.   Hence the immediate effect of individual transfers on emissions would be zero.
  3. The BFF report presumes a load factor for East Coast trains of 44%.  That leads to overcrowding – see the White Paper, “Delivering a Sustainable Railway”, paragraph 6.5.  The average load factor for intercity provided by the RSSB report Traction Energy Metrics (Section 6) is 40%.  That is also said to lead to overcrowding, see Steer in Royal Aeronautical Society: Multimodal Transport Solutions Conference London and Russell in Logistitics and Transport Focus, the journal of the Institute of Transport vol. 9 no 10 and vol. 10 no 2.  Overcrowding is unacceptable on long distance journeys.  For that to be overcome the load factor would have to fall.  That would lead to proportionally higher emissions per passenger-km than cited by the BFF report.
  4. Since the East Coast Main Line is at capacity, reference (c) above, any large scale transfer of passengers from air or road to rail in that corridor implies large scale construction.  Expenditure in excess of £30 billion for a high-speed line has been canvassed by Greengauge and others.  The carbon emissions from that would be large e.g. the manufacture of one tonne of crude steel produces in excess of one tonne of carbon dioxide (See end reference).  One metre of high-speed rail weighs circa 60 kg.  Hence the carbon dioxide emission associated with one kilometre of double track rail (providing four rails) is 240 tonnes for the crude steel and perhaps 480 tonnes after adding for subsequent manufacture.  The distance London to Edinburgh is 632 km.  Hence for the rails alone we have an emission of circa 300,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide if the facility were double-track, or 600,000 tonnes if four-track. To that must be added the effect of the fastenings, the sleepers, the overhead electrification and all the other engineering works. Hence the immediate effect would be a substantial increase in emissions. That would take years to recoup even supposing Rail does emit less that air or other modes, and in many circumstances it does not.  The supporting BFF report is entirely silent on that issue.
  5. The following table provides the emissions for a range of high-speed trains with 40% seat occupancy.  The table also provides the emission from (i) Ryanair (ii) a diesel powered car returning 60 miles per gallon with a range of occupancies (iii) an express coach returning 10 miles per gallon with 30 people aboard.  The coach occupancy of 30 corresponds to a 50-seat coach with 60% of seats occupied.  That occupancy rate is from section 6 of the RSSB paper cited above. The basis for emissions for the trains is in Transport Watch Facts Sheets 5 and 5b.  The source data for fuel consumption in 5b is Professor Roger Kemp of Lancaster University.  The emissions per KW-h are from Appendix 1 of Facts Sheet 5.  The source for that data is the BERR as noted in the Appendix.

Further, for electric power the emissions attributable to the transmission losses and generating industry use of electricity have been allocated to the end users.  Similarly the fuel consumption of air and road transport has been increased by 10% above its nominal value to allow for refinery energy use and the fuel used in transporting the fuel to end users.

A typical calculation for the emission of road vehicles follows the tabulation below.

Table 1 Carbon dioxide - Gms per passenger-km



(A) generating

industry average

(B) coal-fired


Pendolino West Coast at 200 kph





Class 91 East Coast at 200 kph



Eurostar at 300 kph



Ryanair Facts sheet 5b Table 2.


Diesel car driver only


Diesel car Av occupancy 1.6


Diesel car driver +1


Diesel car driver +2


Coach 30 passengers 10 miles/gal



[Calculation for cars with driver only.  One gallon provides 4.546 litres.  Specific Gravity of diesel 0.84.  Emissions per Kg 3150gms. One Km is 0.625 miles.  Hence a car returning 60 miles per gallon with the driver alone aboard emits: 4.546 x 0.84 x 3150 x 0.625/60 = 125 gms.  Add 10% for refinery energy usage and transport of fuel and get 137.5 gms.  The other values in the table follow by proportion].

In comparison the BFF paper provides 42 gms by rail, the range 144 to 304 by air, and 127 for an average petrol car with occupancy of 1.58.  Surprisingly the BFF data makes no reference to express coaches.

The BFF value of 42 gms for rail is pleasingly close to the value in the above table for a Class 91 East Coast Train when the average emission for the generating industry is used, namely 41.5 gms. The difference between the BFF range for air and the value for Ryanair arises because (a) Ryanair achieves (at least) 80% occupancy and its passengers carry little luggage whereas (b) the occupancy used in the BFF report is 70% and many or most of the passengers will have substantial luggage - they will be long haul, changing planes.  Further Ryanair may have a fleet of particularly efficient aircraft.

In any event the conclusion to be drawn from Table 1 above is dramatically different from the conclusion drawn from the BFF data.  In particular, if as is the case, it is coal-fired emissions that should be considered, then Ryanair would provide virtually the same emission as the Class 91 East Coast train and emit less than the other train types in the table. Further, our diesel car provides smaller emissions than any of the trains unless the car contains only the driver. The coach, omitted entirely from the BFF data, provides an emission of only 28gms per passenger-km. That is nearly four times less that the Class 91 train when coal-fired emissions are considered. If it is average emissions from the generating industry that should be considered then the express coach remains by far the best option.


We conclude that the advertisement will lead members of the public and politicians to believe the high-speed rail offers dramatically lower emissions compared with air travel, or travel by car when the reverse is often the case.  Further, the report cited by the advertisement in support fails to report the dramatically lower emissions available from the express coach.  Lastly, the BFF report is not, as claimed, independent.

Since (a) there is a very large discrepancy between reality and the message portrayed by the advertisement and (b) the advertisement will help to create a climate in which tens of billions of pounds of taxpayers money may be erroneously spent, we believe the advertiser should be required publish a retraction on the same scale as the advertisement itself.

For the carbon emission of steel manufacture see:

which provides access to “Energy use and carbon dioxide emissions from steel production in China”; L. Price, J. Sinton , E. Worrell, D. Phylipsen, X. Hu, J. Li of the Ernest Orlando Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.  This reference was provided to us by Jonathan M Thomas: Manager, Climate Change Projects Office at the DTI on 18th August  2006. Mr Thomas commented that since China produces 30% of world steel its emissions provide a fair sample.


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