When I travel, I try to limit my environmental impact. I don't want to refrain from travelling completely, but when I do travel, I tend to favour ground-level transportation over air-transportation, if distances are not too large (e.g., if traveling over-land would take more than three days, I might fly anyway.

A well-filled train usually has a much lower ecological footprint per traveller-kilometer than an æroplane, particularly if the train is hydro-electrical, such as in Sweden. High speed trains and diesel trains are already worse, but still considerably better than flying. But what about ferries Fuel used by (fast) ferries can be quite dirty. On the other hand, ferries may carry over a thousand travellers, sometimes several thousands.

How does the ecological footprint per traveller of a typical, well-filled ferry compare to the ecological footprint per traveller of an æroplane?

For example, travelling from Stockholm to Warsaw, one might identify four alternatives with a somewhat similar travel class, where all day trains are 2nd class and all overnight accommodation (train or ferry) is with a bed/berth in a shared cabin.

  • flying in an ordinary economy seat
  • by train+ferry via Nynäshamn–Gdańsk
  • by train (almost) all the way via Copenhagen, Hamburg, Berlin (a considerable detour)
  • (only part of the year) by train-on-ferry via Malmö and Berlin (Berlin Night Express)

Which one is the most ecological?

  • Great question! I have been looking for travel search engines with Eco information, and there are one or two (free) for air travel. I think you have missed one possible travel route, the over night train from Malmö to Berlin. And then Berlin to Warsaw. Though I have no real numbers I've used this myself several times, might just be the least eco destructive route. – Alendri Oct 7 '12 at 12:14
  • True, I didn't think of that one because it's not operated when I will travel, it's not year-round. I have added it now nevertheless. – gerrit Oct 7 '12 at 12:33
  • What travel class? There's a big difference in impact between first class and economy on many modes of transport, due to the different amounts of space you take up – Gagravarr Oct 7 '12 at 13:02
  • @Gagravarr, true, I have added information on this. – gerrit Oct 7 '12 at 13:07
  • Personally I would like to have the comparable data of any available classes, so I can make a choice and see the difference between them. – Alendri Oct 7 '12 at 13:13

Comparing aeroplanes and trains shows that aeroplanes are very much the least ecologically friendly mode of transport. As an example from http://www.seat61.com/CO2flights.htm:

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A site which has some limited data comparing plane, train and car+ferry gives us the following data, but I would assume that the car emissions skew the numbers somewhat, which leads me to believe that the ferry could be the lowest impact:

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Caveat: these only take CO2 into account, and there are many other ways transport impacts the environment.

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