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.