Stretching to Reduce Emissions

In 2010, Norfolk Southern set an ambitious five-year goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent for every revenue ton-mile of freight our trains transport. In 2014, the final year, the company reduced emissions 8.5 percent per revenue ton-mile, or 85 percent of the goal.

Over the period, the company achieved substantial reductions in business emissions. In 2014, the railroad moved 205 billion revenue ton-miles of freight, meaning that emissions avoided through the 8.5 percent reduction totaled roughly 524,800 metric tons of GHG annually. That’s equivalent to removing more than 110,480 gas-burning passenger vehicles from the highway, according to a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency emissions calculator.

Norfolk Southern raised the bar high for our reduction goal, concluding that it would be better to stretch and fall short than hit an easy target. Reductions achieved are attributed largely to improvements in locomotive fuel economy and energy efficiencies of railroad offices, shops, and yards.

The company’s goal was based on a 2009 GHG intensity rate of 30 grams of CO2-equivalent emissions per revenue ton-mile. In 2014, the ton-mile emissions rate from all operations — including locomotives, non-locomotive fossil fuel burn, and facility energy usage — was down to 27.4 grams. To hit the goal, the railroad needed to lower emissions to 27 grams.

In 2015, the company plans to set a new longer-term emissions goal.

Norfolk Southern 2014 Emissions (in metric tons CO2)

Scope 1 Scope 2 Scope 3
CO2* 5,309,134 265,441 6,939
CH4 10,207 112 3
N2O 39,409 1,262 17
HFCs, PFCs, SF6 0 0 0
SUBTOTAL 5,358,750 266,815 6,959
*Total 5,632,524 MT CO2 equivalent emissions


2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
Total Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions of carbon dioxide equivalents (MILLION METRIC TONS) 4.7 5.2 5.4 5.18 5.34 5.63
Emissions per revenue ton-mile (GRAMS) 29.96 28.78 28.19 27.93 27.63 27.44
Total revenue ton-miles of freight moved (BILLIONS) 158.5 181.9 191.7 185.6 193.55 205
Total railway operating revenues (BILLIONS USD) 7.9 9.5 11.2 11 11 11.6


The railroad’s absolute emissions of GHG increased 5 percent over 2013, attributed primarily to four factors:

  • A 5 percent increase in business volume.
  • Severe winter weather that increased traffic congestion, train idling, and use of shorter trains for safety reasons, thus putting more locomotives on the rails.
  • A larger than expected spring surge in traffic that increased congestion.
  • An overall increase in non-locomotive emissions, including consumption of fuel oil, diesel fuel for equipment, and on-road gasoline.


A Business Leader in Carbon Disclosure

In 2014, Norfolk Southern gained recognition as a marketplace leader in carbon disclosure, earning a place on the CDP Climate Disclosure Leadership Index. On a scale of 100, the railroad scored a 98 for carbon disclosure and ranked in the top 10 percent of S&P 500 companies that participated in the voluntary CDP survey. It was the company’s best-ever score in seven years of participating in the survey and a 9 percent improvement over 2013.

Norfolk Southern’s participation reflects ongoing efforts to integrate sustainable business practices into daily operations. CDP, a London-based environmental nonprofit, cited the depth and quality of climate-change data that Norfolk Southern disclosed to investors and the marketplace. CDP operates the only global environmental disclosure system and independently assesses and ranks corporate climate disclosures.

2014 Carbon Footprint

In 2014, Norfolk Southern generated 5.6 million metric tons of greenhouse gases from business operations. Diesel-burning locomotives accounted for 90 percent of total emissions, or 5 million metric tons. Emissions generated from use of purchased power to heat, cool, and light railroad facilities accounted for 5 percent of the total. The remaining 5 percent was generated mostly by a mix of fossil fuels used in business operations.

While business growth drove up emissions, the railroad contributes to an overall reduction in U.S. greenhouse gases when shippers use rail instead of the highway. Because trains on average are four times more fuel efficient than trucks and reduce GHG emissions by 75 percent, overall emissions would have been greater if the freight had moved by truck.

Norfolk Southern aspires to absolute reductions of CO2, but a small increase in rail emissions from business growth that results from taking freight off interstate highways comes with a silver lining - transportation that is cleaner and greener.

The Green Machine: How Shippers Can Reduce Their Footprint

Norfolk Southern offers an easy way for shippers to calculate how they can reduce supply-chain emissions by moving their goods by rail.

The company’s carbon footprint analyzer - the “Green Machine” - enables shippers to compare greenhouse gas emissions of intermodal and rail versus truck over specific routes. The calculator is accessible on Norfolk Southern’s website.

Using the calculator, shippers can enter data, including cargo tonnage and origin and destination points, to quickly compare the environmental benefits of using rail vs. highway. The calculator uses industry averages of locomotive and truck fuel efficiencies based on studies by the Federal Railroad Administration. On average, trains are four times more fuel efficient than trucks and generate 75 percent fewer emissions.