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2015 Fuel–Efficiency Scorecard

410 miles

How far NS moved a ton of freight
on one gallon of diesel

1.28 gallons

Amount of diesel fuel consumed
per 1,000 gross ton miles of train moves

Setting a goal on fuel efficiency

Norfolk Southern in 2015 set a five-year goal to improve locomotive fuel efficiency as part of the company’s strategic plan to reduce operating costs and improve the company’s stewardship of resources.

The goal is to reduce fuel consumption by $80 million per year by 2020. To achieve it, NS aims to improve overall locomotive fuel economy by nearly 9 percent from the 2015 baseline. NS has fuel-efficiency initiatives underway or in development to reach the goal. They range from train-handling technologies to operating strategies, such as running longer trains, which requires fewer locomotives and reduces fuel use.

NS’ efforts to improve fuel efficiency will contribute to its goal to reduce carbon emissions. NS’ current goal, expected to be updated in 2017, is to reduce GHG emissions by 10 percent per revenue ton-mile based on 2009 emission levels.

“We’ve been on a path of steady and consistent improvement in fuel efficiency going back several years,” said Neville Wilson, director operations and locomotive control, who leads NS’ fuel team. “We have initiatives in place that we believe can help us accelerate that progress.”

2020 Goals

$80 million

Fuel consumption savings
based on 2015 prices

1.17 gallons

Diesel burn per 1,000 gross
ton-miles vs. 1.28 gallons in 2015


Improvement in fuel economy
over 2015 baseline

Following are two of the fuel team’s most significant efficiency initiatives:

Follow the LEADER

Norfolk Southern’s main fuel-efficiency program is LEADER, a train-handling technology that monitors a train’s operating conditions and calculates the speed and dynamic braking required for maximum fuel efficiency. Train crews use an onboard touch-screen computer to operate the GPS-based system. NS has achieved average fuel savings of 5 to 7 percent on trains led by a LEADER-equipped locomotive.

By the end of 2015, NS had equipped more than 1,900 of its 2,600 road locomotives – nearly three-fourths of the road fleet – with LEADER software and hardware. In 2015, the number of trains operating with LEADER more than doubled – to 50 percent of all road trains, from 22 percent at the end of 2014. During the year, NS also completed employee training on use of LEADER, involving approximately 4,400 locomotive engineers and 3,900 conductors.

In 2016, NS for the first time will begin using Trip Optimizer train-handling technology developed by industry partner GE Transportation. Trip Optimizer, GE’s version of LEADER, will be installed on 50 new GE Evolution locomotives NS plans to purchase. NS also expects to install Trip Optimizer on older GE locomotive models that receive engine upgrades through NS’ locomotive rebuild program.

NS’ plan to buy new locomotives and its rebuild program – in particular, an initiative to convert DC traction-motor locomotives to more efficient AC locomotives – support NS’ goal to lower the average age of its locomotive fleet. Reducing the fleet’s age increases reliability and contributes to reduced fuel consumption over time because fewer locomotives are out of service for repairs and maintenance. That means NS can operate a smaller locomotive fleet to meet business demands.

More Information

A timeline of milestones and details about LEADER, NS’ flagship fuel-efficiency initiative, can be found in NS’ 2015 sustainability report.

Matching horsepower with tonnage

Beyond LEADER, the most significant fuel conservation initiative is called Horsepower Per Ton, or HPT. Developed during 2015 and rolled out in early 2016, HPT provides train crews with specific guidelines on maximum locomotive horsepower to use based on train type, total tonnage, and direction.

Typically, several locomotives are assigned to a train. However, rarely are they all needed for the entire trip, because horsepower demands vary based on terrain and other operating conditions. HPT aims to reduce the number of locomotives used during any segment of the trip.

Using fewer units is more efficient operationally and saves fuel. Development is underway to incorporate HPT as an automatic feature of LEADER.

“We’re leveraging on-board technology gained by installing LEADER, including GPS and track map information, to enable us to remotely idle LEADER-equipped locomotives in real time if not needed for pulling power,” Wilson said. “This will make HPT even more dynamic as a fuel-efficiency tool.”

NS fuel economy by the numbers

Norfolk Southern measures fuel efficiency in two ways: by revenue ton-miles and by gross ton-miles.

Revenue ton miles: Fuel economy tied to revenue ton-miles, or RTM, is based on the tonnage of customers’ freight moved in revenue service. In 2015, NS trains moved 199.7 billion revenue ton-miles of freight while consuming more than 486 million gallons of locomotive diesel fuel. On average, NS moved a ton of freight 410 miles per gallon of diesel burned. That compares with 415 miles per gallon in 2014, a decline of 1 percent. The decline is attributable largely to shifts in business mix, weather, and network traffic issues that resulted in congestion and increased train idling.

Gross Ton Miles: The use of gross ton-miles, or GTM, provides the broadest look at fuel economy, taking into account fuel consumed by nonrevenue work trains, yard switching activity, and empty freight cars traveling on revenue trains. In 2015, NS trains moved 384.4 billion GTM. On average, NS consumed 1.28 gallons of diesel fuel per 1,000 GTM, achieving the same fuel economy as in 2014. NS is basing its 2020 fuel-efficiency goal on gross ton-miles. The 2020 target is 1.17 gallons per 1,000 GTM.

Since 2011, the company has improved fuel efficiency by 3 percent per 1,000 GTM.

Revenue Ton Miles
Gross Ton Miles

Alternatives to reduce fuel use

Norfolk Southern is an industry leader in exploring alternative energy sources to reduce locomotive emissions. During 2015, NS made gains in battery technology and compressed natural gas.

A strategic shift on battery technology

Since the 2009 rollout of NS 999, a prototype battery switcher locomotive, Norfolk Southern has continued research into battery technology as an alternative energy source for locomotives. In 2015, the company made a strategic shift: Instead of focusing on tractive power in a full hybrid, NS now is exploring use of batteries for just the opposite – to allow locomotives to be shut down, thus reducing fuel burn and emissions from idling engines.

NS hopes to develop a “micro-hybrid” solution. The idea is to install a small battery pack on locomotives to operate critical electronic control systems, such as onboard train-handling equipment, while the locomotive is shut down. Similar to automobiles, locomotive electronics and other operating systems are run by the same battery pack that starts the engine, which requires a surge in power. As a result, locomotives often remain idling or go through an automated stop-start process when not moving freight to avoid draining the batteries while keeping those electronics running.

Economic and environmental benefits: Equipping the locomotive fleet with a micro-hybrid battery pack to reduce engine idling is much more cost-effective than building a fleet of hybrid-powered locomotives.

“We’re trying to use battery technology in a way that gives us the most fuel and emissions savings for the investment,” said Sean Woody, manager technology development and leader of the R&D effort. “Locomotives produce more emissions and are the least fuel efficient when they’re idling, so reducing idling time provides the most opportunity for improvement. We realize there’s tremendous payoff from doing that.”

Lessons learned: NS is applying lessons learned from six years of work developing the NS 999. The company’s micro-hybrid research includes looking at the best type of batteries to use, how much battery power is required, and forecasting system costs. Currently, battery technology remains too expensive and is not advanced enough to provide reliable locomotive tractive power – factors that played into NS’ strategic shift. An upgraded second-generation version of NS 999, tested in yard service during early 2015, was equipped with nearly 900 lead-carbon batteries, and maintenance was an ongoing issue.

“We still see the potential,” Woody said, “but the technology and the economics are just not there yet.”

NS builds and tests a CNG locomotive

Norfolk Southern continues to advance its knowledge of CNG technology as an alternative to diesel fuel to power locomotives.

In 2015, employees at NS’ Juniata Locomotive Shop successfully modified a GP38-2 switcher locomotive engine to run entirely on compressed natural gas. The unit, which has not been put into service, is paired with a locomotive slug housing CNG cylinders that supply the equivalent of 1,000 gallons of diesel.

“It’s built and it’s functional,” said Don Faulkner, general superintendent locomotive shops, who oversees NS’ locomotive rebuild programs at Juniata Locomotive Shop, where work on the CNG prototype occurred.

NS is interested in the potential of CNG to reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, and hydrocarbons compared with diesel-powered locomotives. NS in 2015 put the prototype through third-party emissions testing and is exploring ways to enhance its performance. Using CNG locomotives in revenue service would require federal approval, a topic of ongoing discussion among the industry and regulatory authorities.