When anyone — an individual, a family or a business — orders something, their item is packaged, shipped and then it’s moving, whether to the next neighborhood or the next state. Sometimes, an item’s transportation can leave a significant carbon footprint.
Freight rail, though, has a much smaller carbon footprint than other transportation modes. In fact, railroads on average are four times more fuel efficient than trucks.
Through new investments, improved operating practices and technological innovations, freight rail now moves one ton an average of 479 miles per gallon of fuel, double what it did 35 years ago. And with the U.S. Department of Transportation expecting total freight demand to grow 41% from 2015 to 2040, there are no plans to slow down.
Here are four ways freight rail reduces its carbon footprint:
1. Reducing Idling
Railroads use innovative “stop-start” idling-reduction technology that allows main engines to shut down when ambient conditions are favorable. This is similar to some modern cars that turn off at red lights.
2. Maximizing Every Gallon
Railroads use fuel management systems —cutting-edge super software that provides real-time recommendations on what speed a train should travel at — to maximize fuel efficiency.
These systems can also determine the most efficient spacing between trains and monitor the performance of locomotives to ensure they are at peak efficiency.
3. Greening the Freight Yard
The rail industry’s commitment to making its systems more environmentally friendly extends well beyond trains and tracks. Traditionally, cranes used to move cargo on and off freight cars used diesel fuel. Recently, though, the use of electric cranes that produce zero greenhouse gas emissions has risen sharply.
In April 2018, for example, the Port of Long Beach installed five zero emissions cranes to help it meet air quality goals. By switching from diesel-powered cranes to electric cranes, using battery-powered yard tractors to move freight from warehouses and converting natural gas-fueled trucks into plug-in hybrid-electric trucks., the Port expects to reduce greenhouse gases by more than 1,300 tons.
4. Redesigning Railcars
Thanks to improved freight car design, freight rail carries an average of 3,630 tons per train, up from 2,923 tons in 2000. By moving more freight without increasing fuel use, the redesigned railcars have made freight rail even more sustainable.
Thanks to these technologies and practices, freight railroads greatly benefit the environment. Today, freight trains account for just 0.5% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from all sources and only 2.0% of emissions from transportation-related sources.
Moving freight by rail, then, is a choice everyone can feel good about.