Posted by andy on Thursday, September 08, 2011.

Hipmunk, Amtrak, and sustainability: context is everything

Amtrak on Hipmunk {.wide}

Today Hipmunk announced that it has added Amtrak trains to flight search results. Reactions have been positive (e.g. VentureBeat, Gadling, Tnooz) and have focused on the lower prices and oftentimes better schedules that trains can offer travelers versus planes on certain routes.

But we like it for a much different reason: it’s a triumph of sustainability.

Right place at the right time

Take a look at the screenshot above; it’s from a Hipmunk search from Philadelphia to Washington, DC. Hipmunk does its usual amazing job of showing differences in price and time—here, you’d save at least $10 and an hour and half with the train option. What it doesn’t show you is that taking the train will result in 21 lbs. CO2e; the flight, 1,737 lbs., nearly a ton.

The dramatic difference between these modes in environmental impact isn’t a new thing; Amtrak’s been touting it for a while now on its homepage, and it’s one of the stock green travel tips we hear so often. But when you’re trying to get from Point A to Point B, you call up your favorite travel site and hit Search. Let’s face it: who is going to assess the flight options, open another tab for, run another search, and perform an eyeball comparison of the results between tabs?

Thanks to Hipmunk, this is no longer necessary. Travelers benefit from the saved time and money, and the planet—and all of us—benefit from the resulting decrease in climate change emissions. Hipmunk surely didn’t add this feature for the environmental effects, but they nevertheless deserve a hearty round of applause for the thousands of tons of CO2 that will not be emitted as a result.

How big is the impact?

As a rule of thumb, travelers can assume that Amtrak results will always be lower-impact than flights. But, as they say, there’s safety in numbers, so we added support for this new Hipmunk feature to our Careplane impact-transparency browser plugin:

Hipmunk with Careplane {.wide}

The difference between training and flying is no joke. Install Careplane, run a search, and see for yourself.

What blog is this?

Safety in Numbers is Brighter Planet's blog about climate science, Ruby, Rails, data, transparency, and, well, us.

Who's behind this?

We're Brighter Planet, the world's leading computational sustainability platform.

Who's blogging here?

  1. Patti Prairie CEO