Fuel Economy: A Key Sustainability Challenge
Locomotives generate all but about 10 percent of the company’s total CO2 emissions. For that reason, these workhorses are a main focus of Norfolk Southern’s sustainability efforts.
The pursuit of fuel efficiency and lower emissions goes beyond reducing the company’s environmental impact. In 2013, our locomotive fuel bill was around $1.4 billion – one of the largest operating expenses. Figuring out ways to cut that expense is simply good business.
An accepted industry metric to gauge locomotive fuel efficiency is expressed in revenue ton-miles. RTMs are calculated by multiplying total tonnage of paid freight by the number of rail miles moved. The average fuel economy per ton of freight is calculated by dividing total RTMs by the total gallons of fuel consumed. The resulting number is the railroad’s basic unit of production in terms of moving freight.
In 2013, Norfolk Southern trains rolled up 193.5 billion revenue ton-miles while burning more than 479 million gallons of diesel and biodiesel fuel. That means, on average, our locomotives moved a ton of freight 404 miles on one gallon of diesel. That’s compared with 407 miles in 2012. The slight fuel-efficiency drop – less than 1 percent – is attributed largely to weather-related conditions, such as snow and storms that caused rail delays, and a changing traffic mix that included more high-velocity intermodal traffic and fewer unit coal trains.
Increased 2013 business volumes led to a 5 percent increase in overall fuel consumption. However, locomotive fuel use on a relative basis has trended downward by about 1 percent annually over the past five years as the railroad has deployed technologies to improve operating efficiencies. We helped pioneer LEADER, for example, a cutting-edge technology that prompts locomotive engineers on optimal train speed to achieve maximum fuel economies.
In addition to LEADER, the company has adopted initiatives that directly or indirectly contribute to fuel and carbon-emissions savings. They include:
- Idle-reduction technologies for locomotive engines
- An in-house locomotive recycling program to equip older units with more fuel-efficient and cleaner-burning engines
- Alternative-fuel technologies, including battery-powered electric locomotives
- Track wayside sensors that improve fuel economy while reducing maintenance costs
- Dispatcher technologies such as Unified Train Control System and Movement Planner