Traveling Lighter on the Planet

Traveling Lighter on the Planet

Kathy Douglas, learning and acting for Climate Justice, shares her travel experience and the green benefits of train travel

In celebration of Together for the Love of Creation Earth Week 2023, The United Church of Canada is sharing stories of how people are Praying, Learning and Acting for Climate Justice. Today, we meet Kathy Douglas, Learning and Acting for Climate Justice, who shares her experience of traveling from southwestern Ontario to Winnipeg. One of many who are re-thinking and re-imagining travel in light of the harmful impact of greenhouse gas emissions on our earth.

Regional staff across The United Church of Canada met in Winnipeg for a Youth and Young Adult Gathering at the end of February. As Faith Formation Minister for Antler River Watershed, Western Ontario Waterways and Horseshoe Falls Regional Councils, this trip was part of my ministry. For ecological reasons, a colleague and I decided to take the train from Toronto to Winnipeg.

This transportation choice was consistently met with wonder.

Three common questions came up; Wasn’t train travel inconvenient? Isn’t train travel way more expensive than flying? Does train travel really reduce your environmental footprint compared to flying?

I found the following answers to those important questions. The train was inconvenient in some ways but not in others. It most certainly costs more up-front dollars to fly, but many benefits are flattened out by the cost factor. And finally, train travel is a better environmental choice. But most of all, train travel was good for my soul and mental well-being. In a fast, stressful, scarcity-driven world, the intentional choice to at least consider train travel will forever be part of my deliberations.

The Canadian Via Rail Toronto to Vancouver Train (Toronto to Vancouver train – The Canadian | VIA Rail ) only leaves Toronto Sundays and Wednesdays, not every day of the week/several times a day, as flights often do. The trip to Winnipeg took two full days, not half a day, as the airport and plane experience does. These time requirements do add barriers. However, the train experience offered many perks that are not offered through air travel. The stations are easy to access. There are no long early arrival wait times and no security lines! There is virtually none of the airport stress I experience when flying. The train trip offered roomy, comfy seats and beds, breathtaking Canadian scenery, five full course chef prepared meals featuring local cuisine, fantastic service and great conversation with new friends along the way. The train is not a trip…it is an ‘experience’ of peace, engaging conversations, calming spaces and a gentle rocking respite.

The cost of my train trip was almost twice as expensive as a comparable flight for me from Toronto to Winnipeg. Considering the train trip includes one-night accommodation and five meals, the extra costs may be reasonable compared to the plane trip offering a cookie and drink in a tiny seat.

Using the lens of climate justice, one really begins to appreciate the benefits of train travel. ‘Train folk’ who were plentiful on our trip will offer and produce statistics that confirm train travel is less detrimental to the earth. According to most, If you take the train, you’ll cut carbon dioxide (CO2) by half compared to the plane. A key reason is that the train may be a significant carbon emitter, but it’s designed to carry many passengers (and freight), so the per capita emissions are much lower.

Train virtually always comes out better for the environment than a plane, often by a lot. Of course, there are always variables, but fuel efficiencies are better with slower, less resistant trains. Steel wheels on steel tracks create little friction. Sufficient amounts of energy are used to ‘take off’ and maintain the speeds of air travel. There is less damage to the air quality when emissions are kept lower to the ground as opposed to emissions sent into the higher atmospheric levels with air traffic.

In the future, I will always consider train travel over air travel. I want to move slower with more intentional contemplation about how I impact others and all of creation. I want to pay attention to what is ‘in between’ as much as reaching a goal. I seek to be changed.

—Kathy Douglas is Faith Formation Minister for Antler River Watershed, Western Ontario Waterways and Horseshoe Falls Regional Councils. She was also part of the Animator’s Circle, amplifying the recent joint For the Love of Creation and KAIROS COP27 delegation.

Credit: Courtesy of Kathy Douglas

Curious about the carbon footprint of your transportation options? Have a look at this helpful graphic, The Carbon Cost of Transportation, to compare your options.

The views contained within these blogs are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of The United Church of Canada.


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