Sustainable Transportation

Rail’s Environmental Advantage

Moving freight by rail offers an efficient, cost-effective, and immediate way to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. If only 10 percent of long-distance freight now moving by truck moved by rail instead, annual U.S. fuel savings would approach nearly 1 billion gallons and greenhouse gas emissions would fall by around 11 million tons, based on a comparative study of the fuel efficiencies of trains vs. trucks.

The independent study, conducted for the Federal Railroad Administration, shows that trains are the most environmentally friendly way to move freight over land. The 2009 study revealed that trains are between 1.9 and 5.5 times more fuel-efficient than trucks – depending on the commodity being transported and length of haul – and generate up to two-thirds fewer greenhouse gas emissions.

Comparing trains and trucks on 23 different routes, the study found that rail fuel efficiency was higher than truck fuel efficiency on every route in terms of ton-miles of freight per gallon. Rail fuel efficiency varied from 156 to 512 ton-miles per gallon, while truck fuel efficiency ranged from 68 to 133 ton-miles per gallon.

The study provided a comparative evaluation of rail and truck fuel efficiency on corridors and for services over which both trains and trucks compete. Competitive moves were defined as those involving the same commodity and having the same or proximate origin and destination points. The study included a mix of short-, medium-, and long-distance movements; a mix of different commodities and different railcar and truck types; and a mix of geographic regions.

In addition, using trains instead of long-haul trucks helps reduce congestion on interstate highways. The Texas Transportation Institute’s 2012 Urban Mobility Report found that highway congestion annually wasted 2.9 billion gallons of fuel, generated 56 billion pounds of additional CO2, and carried financial costs of $121 billion. About $27 billion of that cost was attributed to wasted time and diesel fuel from trucks moving freight on the highway system.

Shippers Recognize Rail’s Eco-Friendly Benefits

More companies are strategically shifting their mode of product transportation to rail to reduce their supply-chain carbon footprint and achieve business sustainability goals.

In their corporate sustainability reports, some of Norfolk Southern’s largest customers are making note of the move from trucks to rail and intermodal transport. Intermodal land transport typically involves rail for the primary move, with trucks providing short-haul moves for door-to-door customer pickup and delivery. Examples of our customers’ shift to rail transport include: