Sustainability: The big picture

Companies that ship products over the U.S. freight transportation network can lower their carbon footprint by moving more of their goods by rail instead of by highway. A single train can move the equivalent of nearly 300 tractor-trailer trucks while emitting a fraction of the greenhouse gases (GHGs).

While absolute locomotive emissions may increase as railroads run more trains to accommodate business growth, shifting more goods to rail makes environmental sense. As the international community looks for ways to reduce GHGs to address climate change, we want to do our part. By doing what we do best – moving essential goods safely, efficiently, and cost-effectively – our railroad can help lower overall carbon emissions on a regional, national, and global basis.

Because Norfolk Southern operates the most extensive intermodal rail network on the East Coast, we are well positioned to contribute to the nation’s economic growth and environmental health.

Freight rail’s environmental advantage
Scientific research and government accounting of GHGs by emission sources reveal that rail is the most environmentally friendly way to ship goods over land.

An independent study conducted for the Federal Railroad Administration in 2009 concluded that trains on average are nearly four times more fuel-efficient than trucks on a ton-mile basis. That means moving goods by rail instead of over the highway reduces GHG emissions by 75 percent on average per ton-mile.

The EPA’s 2011 Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks also offers evidence of rail’s environmental benefits:

  • Within the nation’s transportation sector, the trucking industry accounted for 22.1 percent, or 401 million metric tons, of GHG emissions. In comparison, the freight rail industry generated 2.3 percent, or 42 million metric tons, of GHG emissions.
  • Among all sources of GHG emissions in the United States, trucking generated 6 percent of the total. Freight railroads generated 0.6 percent of the total.

Moving freight by rail is an easy, cost-competitive, and immediate way to achieve significant reductions of GHG emissions. If only 10 percent of long-haul freight now moving by truck moved by rail instead, annual U.S. GHG emissions would fall by about 11 million tons — equivalent to taking nearly 2 million cars off the road or planting more than 250 million trees.

In addition, using trains instead of long-haul trucks reduces congestion on interstate highways. The most recent study by the Texas Transportation Institute concluded that, in 2011, highway congestion wasted 2.9 billion gallons of fuel and 5.5 billion hours of people’s time. Transporting freight by rail also reduces wear and tear on highways and bridges, which means taxpayers spend less on maintenance and construction of road infrastructure.

Sustainability Reporting
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sustainability in action:

Creative thinking reduces energy use – and costs

Through our InnovatioNS program, Norfolk Southern encourages employees to look for ways to make their work safer, more efficient, and more cost effective. Brian Thomas’ ingenuity has saved the company money and contributed to its sustainability efforts. read more >

sustainability in action:

Committed to a greener workplace

Employees at Norfolk Southern have embraced the railroad’s sustainability efforts. At many locations across the system, employees such as Emily Hunter have taken the initiative to launch recycling and other green initiatives. read more >

sustainability in action:

A Norfolk Southern ‘River Star’

Ray Jones, a 32-year railroader, is committed to helping Norfolk Southern meet its pledge to be a good corporate neighbor and environmental steward. read more >

Creative thinking reduces energy use – and costs

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Committed to a greener workplace

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A Norfolk Southern ‘River Star’

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See all of our sustainability in action case studies

sustainability in action:

Keeping locomotives moving down the track

Norfolk Southern is continually looking for ways to increase the efficiency and productivity of operations. Devina Miller has played a key role in a Mechanical Department initiative dubbed Mission Critical. read more >

Keeping locomotives moving down the track

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See all of our sustainability in action case studies

sustainability in action:

A little effort, a lot of food for those in need

To strengthen the communities our railroad serves, Norfolk Southern promotes and supports employee volunteerism. Many employees, like Amanda Carpenter, volunteer their time, treasure, and talents to build community connections. read more >

sustainability in action:

Building community partnerships

Norfolk Southern strives to be a good corporate citizen. The railroad routinely partners with local, state, and federal government officials on projects that benefit communities and the country. Employees such as Ed Sites and David Dize are the ones who make these partnerships work. read more >

sustainability in action:

In pursuit of a dream

Norfolk Southern ensures that employees have ample opportunities to develop their skills and advance their careers. Jerome Perry is taking advantage of an NS program to further his education. read more >

sustainability in action:

Where good health meets good deeds

As part of its employee wellness program, dubbed WellNS, Norfolk Southern in 2011 introduced Power Train, an initiative that combines physical fitness and charitable giving. Misty Braden organized a Power Train team in Knoxville to help fund breast cancer research after a colleague was diagnosed with the disease. read more >

sustainability in action:

Partnering for safety

Safely operating our railroad is Norfolk Southern’s No. 1 priority. In addition to efforts to keep our employees safe on the job, we partner with communities in various ways to promote public safety. Employees Richard Vaughan and Greg Valentine demonstrate that commitment. read more >

A little effort, a lot of food for those in need

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Building community partnerships

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In pursuit of a dream

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Where good health meets good deeds

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Partnering for safety

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See all of our sustainability in action case studies