Royal Welsh Show 2023 - Train versus Car (Carbon Footprint)


Photo 1: Royal Welsh Showground 2023

Alex Rowe of Gittisham Forge, stayed with us for a week while stewarding at this year's Royal Welsh Show. Alex boarded with us a few years ago when he was on his Artist Blacksmith course at Hereford. We've visited the Royal Welsh Showground near Builth Wells for a couple of events (Smallholding, Wonderwool and Winter Fair) but never the main event of the year: the Royal Welsh Show which attracts more than 200,000 visitors over its four days.

Alex managed to get us a couple of free tickets (normal price £35 pp) so we went along on Tuesday 25th July for a full day's entertainment. Since most of the on-site parking was taken up by organisers, competitors, stewards, stall holders, etc, a very efficient park & ride system was in operation - we parked the campervan a couple of miles away in a farmer's field and took one of the frequent coaches that dropped you off at the showground entrance.

We did look into going by train which would normally be about 50% less CO₂e than driving with 2 people in the car. As with most things in life, however, it is a bit more complicated than that.

The train journey from Hereford to Builth Road (nearest station to the Showground) is somewhat convoluted and requires travelling north to Craven Arms and then southwest to Builth Road. This website gives the actual rail distance as 110 kilometres each way; i.e. a total of 220 kilometres for the return journey. Using a carbon footprint of 41 g per passenger kilometre for National Rail, the return rail trip from Hereford to Builth Road has a carbon footprint of 9 kg CO₂e. Driving to and from home to the railway station would add an extra 0.3 kg CO₂e although walking/cycling is also option. 

By road, Hereford to the Royal Welsh Showground is 41 miles or 66 kilometres - giving a return trip distance of 132 kilometres. If we assume a carbon footprint of 85.5 g per passenger kilometre (2 passengers) for a medium-sized diesel car then the return road trip has a carbon footprint of 11.3 kg CO₂e.

First impressions, therefore, suggest going by train would produce about 20 % less CO₂e compared with driving by car. To muddy the waters further, the Hereford-Builth Road train journey uses diesel trains only which have a much higher carbon footprint (91 g CO₂e per passenger kilometre) than the average National Rail value of 41 g per passenger kilometre. Now the carbon footprint of the rail option spirals to 19.8 kg CO₂e.

But there is another very important factor to consider. In this instance, we should consider the marginal (i.e. additional) carbon emissions rather than the average emissions of the two modes of transport. In reality, by taking the train we will not add any extra carbon dioxide to the atmosphere because the train will be running in any case whether or not we are on it. OK, there will be a very small amount due to the weight of 2 additional passengers. On the other hand, when we use the car all of its carbon emissions will end up in the atmosphere. So a scheduled train (or bus/coach) will always be the more carbon-neutral option to the car.

There are a couple of other human factors that come into play:

Firstly, travel costs. The cheapest return rail tickets (including a 33% discount with a railcard) would cost £41.50 giving you approximately 6½ hours at the show itself. If you wanted to spend longer, say 9 hours, at the show then catching an earlier train would increase the ticket price to just over £70.  By way of comparison, fuel costs for the return journey (medium diesel car) would be around £12- £15; plus you could spend up to 12  hours at the show, should you wish.

Secondly, there is the time factor which I alluded to above. The road trip takes about 1 hour each way - a total travel time of just over two hours door to door. The fastest train journeys between Hereford and Builth Road are about 2¼ hours - so a minimum travel time of 4½ hours (longer if one includes arriving at the station in plenty of time to catch the train and/or walking to the station). For a day trip, these longer travel times are very restrictive. The Heart of Wales line (for the Craven Arms ⇄ Builth Road stage) only has 4 trains a day going in each direction which severely limits travel options. [note: the HoW line is a very scenic journey that is well worth doing in its own right].

In the end, it was the time factor that swayed us to go by car. Another good option if we had planned ahead was to stay a couple of nights in and around Builth Wells and travel by train. Good luck trying to find local last-minute accommodation during the Royal Welsh Show!!

There was plenty to see at the show in addition to the farm animals. When we went round the various animal sheds at midday, many of them were taking their afternoon nap ...

Photo 2: Slumbering Gloucestershire Old Spots

... fortunately, Mum does not need to be awake when the kids need feeding (Video 1):

Video 1: Suckling Piglets

Plenty of action including tug-of-war, rugby sevens, sheep shearing, farriery, and log chopping (Video 2):
Video 2: Tree Chopping

In the main arena there were various horsey events, motorcycle stunts and an aerial parachute display by the  RAF Falcons ...

Photo 3: RAF Falcons Parachute Display - 2023 Royal Welsh Show

Video 3: RAF Falcons Parachute Display - Royal Welsh Show 2023

We did manage to find Alex who was stewarding the artistic blacksmithing display and have chat with a few other blacksmiths. For us non-farming folk, it is probably a once every five years event. All in all, a very enjoyable if tiring day - this is what we felt like at the end as we made our way home ...

Photo 4: Not a care in the world


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