Opinion: In Defense of Rail’s ‘Green’ Advantage
By Edward Hamberger
Association of American Railroads
This Opinion piece appears in the Dec. 7 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.
We appreciate the opportunity to respond to your recent op-ed, titled “Intermodal Isn’t ‘Greener’ Than Trucks,” in which John Burton attempted to debunk the railroad industry’s environmental edge (click here for previous opinion piece). While it is fair to note that the relative fuel-efficiency advantage of rail over other modes of transport varies, based on distance and the commodities carried, railroads have an environmental advantage over trucks that cannot reasonably be disputed.
In fact, the Federal Railroad Administration recently released a “Comparative Evaluation of Rail and Truck Fuel Efficiency on Competitive Corridors,” which evaluates the fuel efficiency of rail and truck transport on a variety of corridors and services in which both modes compete.
The study examined 23 different movements that included a combination of short-, medium- and long-distance hauls, as well as a mix of different commodities and geographic regions. For each movement, fuel consumption for both modes was calculated, taking into account distance, circuity, vehicle characteristics, speed and numerous other factors. Most of the 23 scenarios compared truck movements with rail intermodal movements, though some involved rail carload movements.
The FRA study found that rail was more fuel-efficient than trucks in all 23 cases. In fact, rail was found to be as much as 8.5 times more fuel-efficient than trucks, depending on the movement.
The study also confirmed that fuel savings from shipping by rail can be huge. For example, one scenario involving a shipment from Los Angeles to Chicago found that moving the freight by rail instead of by truck saved more than 80,000 gallons of fuel.
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