Electric rail systems generate significant air pollution, particularly where these systems are powered by electricity generated by fossil fuel power plants, according to a new study.
The study, conducted by the Breakthrough Technologies Institute, reveals that bus rapid transit (BRT) produces significantly less pollution than electric rail, while costing a fraction of the cost to build and operate.
"Using coal to power transit simply moves the tailpipe to the smokestack -- the overall environment benefit is questionable," said Bill Vincent, author of the study.
Three forms of transit were looked at throughout the study: electric heavy rail, electric light rail and BRT.
It found that electric rail transit systems create significant power plant emissions, including carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, mercury and particulate matter, that contribute to smog, lung disease and global climate change.
The study also found that BRT systems can produce significantly less pollution than electric rail when powered by advanced engines and fuels.
The report makes a number of recommendations to maximize the environmental value of transit investments, including requiring transit agencies to purchase renewable power wherever that option is available.
The report, titled "The Electric Rail Dilemma: Clean Transportation From Dirty Electricity?", is available for free download at www.gobrt.org.