Most of the shadows in this life are caused by standing in one's own sunshine. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson
Question #91937 posted on 05/12/2019 7:12 a.m.

Dear 100 Hour Board,

I regularly ride UTA FrontRunner from the North Temple Station to the Provo Station. I do this for lots of reasons, one of which is my perception that I'm reducing the carbon and particulate emission of the trip by taking FrontRunner versus driving. A few days ago, I was looking at the massive diesel fuel tanks on FrontRunner, and it made me wonder how many people have to ride the train in order for the fuel saved from not driving cars to offset the fuel burned by FrontRunner.

Question 1: how many vehicle miles must FrontRunner be taking off the road per FrontRunner mile in order for the train to "break even" in terms of carbon and particulates?

Question 2: Do we have any decent way to calculate, based on FrontRunner trips and ridership data, if FrontRunner, as a whole, is making things net better off in terms of carbon and particulates?

Assumptions: Assume that every vehicle mile is driven by a theoretical "average" vehicle. Assume that nobody is driving to or from train stations.

(I also understand that there are lots of other reasons to have a public transit program. I'm just talking about the pollution aspect here, and am not trying to label FrontRunner as "good" or "bad" on this basis).



Dear reader,

I... this is the kind of question I love, and I daresay it's the kind of question I know how to answer.
I don't want to give up on it, and I think I know how to answer it, or how to go about answering it.

But at present, I'm dealing with a lot of stuff and I'm paralyzed about actually beginning it in earnest, much less finish it. You know I do care about your question, right? And I care about you, random reader, and I'm sorry to let you down.

For now, though, I'm going to have to admit retreat, and leave you with this consolation-prize UTA Sustainability Report from 2014, which would be very nice to be able to find for a more recent year, which I haven't.

I'll also leave you with one more tangible thing I discovered as I tried to map a route to your quest: The Golden Spike Train Club of Utah, a group of train hobbyists who have constructed a surprisingly large and impressively intricate model railroad system in--of all places--the basement of an abandoned public bathhouse (and at one point a childrens' museum) at Warm Springs Park in Salt Lake City. They host open houses open to the public once a month.


--Ardilla Feroz

P.S. Happy Golden Spike Sesquicentennial!

posted on 05/21/2019 12:36 p.m.
This doesn't fully answer your question and I don't know exact numbers, but in my urban transportation planning class GJ LaBonty of UTA was a guest speaker. He said the current number of FrontRunner riders is making a dent in pollution compared to if they were driving individually. Diesel is theoretically more efficient than gasoline, but it does create a lot more particulate matter, so he said UTA does hope to eventually convert to electric engines, and that the FrontRunner has diesel engines because people didn't believe it would have good ridership so they didn't invest in electric right off the bat.