Alternative road vehicles, electric rail systems, short flights: an environmental comparison

Julien Matheys, Tim Festraets, Jean-Marc Timmermans, Nele Sergeant, Joeri Van Mierlo

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference paper


Alternative vehicles, such as battery, hybrid and fuel cell electric cars, as well as rail transportation systems are often praised for their environmental performances as compared to conventional gasoline or diesel vehicles. The energy efficiency of electric drives is high and the possibility of regenerative braking makes them the most energy efficient transport mode over land. However, in some cases, these transport modes compete with, and therefore should be compared to aviation. This is mainly the case for the so-called very short haul flights (less than one hour of flying). This paper presents the comparison of the environmental performances and energy-efficiency of these different transport modes by means of a case-study.
The intensity of air travel has never been as high as it currently is. Providing unseen exchanging possibilities and comfort to traveling people around the world, the current growth in international air traffic also threatens the potential beneficial achievements of some efforts made in other sectors towards reducing their contribution to global warming and other environmental impacts.
Road and rail transportation are both included in the Kyoto protocol and electric drives, both for road and rail transportation, can largely contribute to the achievement of the objectives put forward in the international agreement. On the other hand, international aviation emissions have not been included in the targets of the Kyoto protocol, but the protocol requires Annex I countries to: pursue limitation or reduction of [GHG emissions from aviation], working through the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). In 2001, the ICAO endorsed the development of open emissions trading for international aviation. The extension of the European Unions Emission Trading Scheme (EU-ETS) is being evaluated and developed right now by the European Union under great international attention.
In this context and with the aim to improve the energy efficiency and the climate friendliness of its transport system, the Belgian government has taken the decision to prohibit the very short haul flights (of less than 150km/~90miles) within the country. The main operation concerned by this prohibition was a planned flight between the Brussels South Charleroi Airport (CRL) and the Liège Airport (LGG) to group passengers before leaving to Morocco, Casablanca Airport (CMN).
In this paper, we evaluate the environmental relevance of this measure by comparing the greenhouse gas emissions due to this type of very short flights to other alternatives for passenger transfer (surface transport) between both airports and cities. The CRL and LGG airports are located about 75 km/~45 miles from each other and are directly connected through a highway. The cities of Liège and Charleroi are directly linked through intercity trains and both airports are located close to the existing railway network, making the addition of some airport railway stations an interesting option for the future.
Alternative connections thus include: road transport (using different transport modes, such as conventional and electric drives for cars and buses) and rail transport. In this paper, special attention will be paid to the energy efficiencies of the different transport modes for these specific short distances. In this context, the climate impact of the well-to-tank chain will be taken into account. So in the case of the electric drives, the electricity production mix will be analysed as well.
Different scenarios will be simulated with the purpose to evaluate the potential greenhouse gas savings. These scenarios will be compared to the reference scenario in which all transferring passengers are conveyed by plane. Alternative scenarios will include: a complete transfer of the passengers by rail (electric trains), a complete transfer of the passengers by bus (conventional, electric drive, CNG buses), a complete transfer of the passengers with cars or vans (for example taxis) (conventional, electric drive, CNG cars). Additional scenarios will be run for so-called mixed transfers (modal split of the passengers over the different transport modes), as well as for other drives, such as CNG drives or as hybrid electric vehicles. The capacity of the different modes will be taken into account for the environmental comparison.

After modeling the different scenarios and taking the technical feasibility into account, the most climate-friendly and energy efficient scenarios will be selected and an evaluation of the yearly CO2-equivalent savings will be performed.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publication23rd Battery, Hybrid and Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle Symposium and Exhibition
Publication statusPublished - 2007
EventFinds and Results from the Swedish Cyprus Expedition: A Gender Perspective at the Medelhavsmuseet - Stockholm, Sweden
Duration: 21 Sep 200925 Sep 2009


ConferenceFinds and Results from the Swedish Cyprus Expedition: A Gender Perspective at the Medelhavsmuseet


  • short-haul flights
  • aviation
  • energy efficiency
  • railways


Dive into the research topics of 'Alternative road vehicles, electric rail systems, short flights: an environmental comparison'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this