“I know this will generate howls of protest, but at present a family of four going by car is about as environmentally friendly as you can get.”

So says Roger Ford, of Modern Railways magazine, in response to a new study that questions popular assumptions about the car’s environmental impact: Encouraging travellers to switch from cars and airlines to inter-city trains brings no benefits for the environment, new research has concluded. Challenging assumptions about railways’ green superiority, the study finds that the weight and fuel requirements of trains have increased to the point where rail could become the least energy-efficient form of transport. Engineers at Lancaster University said trains had failed to keep up with the motor and aviation industries in reducing fuel needs. They calculate that expresses between London and Edinburgh consume slightly more fuel per seat (the equivalent of 11.5 litres) than a modern diesel-powered car making the same journey. The car’s superiority rises dramatically when compared with trains travelling at up to 215mph. We are simply not driving the same cars that we used to drive. Today’s cars are 98 percent cleaner than ones built during the 1960s, which leads to results that confound conventional wisdom. For example, the EPA’s observes that during the last 30 years while vehicle miles traveled have increased by 155%, pollution has been cut by nearly 50%.