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Nation's Freight Railroads Now Average 480 Ton-Miles-Per-Gallon

April 23, 2010
The Association of American Railroads (AAR) has announced that the nation’s freight railroads in 2009 averaged 480 ton-miles to the gallon. Ton-miles-per-gallon is the railroad measurement for fuel efficiency, like autos use miles-per-gallon. Overall, freight rail fuel efficiency is up 104 percent since 1980. In 2009, railroads generated 67 percent more ton-miles than in 1980, while using 18 percent less fuel. 

“I’m pleased to report on Earth Day that the nation’s freight railroads not only haul the goods that America depends on every day, but they do so while benefiting the environment and reducing our dependence on foreign oil,” said AAR president and CEO Edward R. Hamberger. 

While there are many environmental benefits from moving more people and goods by rail, fuel efficiency is where it all starts, Hamberger noted citing the federal government’s finding that railroads are four times more fuel efficient than trucks. “Railroads are moving more while consuming less fuel, which means we’re emitting fewer greenhouse gases and easing highway congestion.”

Railroads use sophisticated on-board monitoring systems to gather and evaluate information to provide engineers with real-time “coaching” and calculate the speed that maximizes fuel savings. Railroads also use innovative freight-car and locomotive designs that cut down fuel consumption.

“America can save even more fuel by shipping more by train,” Hamberger said. “If just 10 percent of the long-haul freight currently moving on our crowded highways was moved by rail, annual fuel savings would exceed 1 billion gallons.”

Among other things, railroads have invested billions of dollars in thousands of new, more fuel-efficient locomotives and on overhauling older units to make them more fuel efficient. Research also is underway on hybrid long-haul locomotives.

Here are some more facts on freight rail’s fuel efficiency:

* One train can haul the load of 280 trucks or more.
* In 2009, Class I railroads generated 1.532 trillion revenue ton-miles. 
* Class I railroads reported fuel consumption in freight service of 3.192 billion gallons. 
* Dividing 1.532 trillion ton-miles by 3.192 billion gallons of fuel yields 480 ton-miles per gallon. That’s up from 436 in 2007 and 457 in 2008.
* 480 was the average last year for all rail traffic across all Class I railroads. That means for some trains and some rail traffic, the corresponding figure will be much higher, while for others it will be lower.

For more on how freight rail helps the environment, visit www.freightrailworks.org.