Moving Freight by Rail vs. Trucks:

Trains produce two-thirds less fuel, pollution, and greenhouse gasses

Shipping by rail instead of trucks reduces pollution (on average) by two thirds, noise by one half, uses only 25% of the fuel and produces only 23% as much greenhouse gasses. Greenhouse gas emissions are directly related to fuel consumption.

 In 2016, U.S. freight railroads moved a ton of freight an average of 483 miles per gallon (up from 235 miles in 1980). That’s a 99 % improvement, thanks to more efficient locomotives, reduced idling, and improved train-handling techniques.

If just 10 % of the freight that now moves by Class 7 or Class 8 (the largest) trucks moved by rail instead, fuel savings would be around 1.5 billion gallons per year and annual greenhouse gas emissions would fall by approximately 17 million tons — equivalent to removing around 3.2 million cars from the highways for a year, or planting 400 million trees.

Here in Vermont, 47% of greenhouse gasses are produced by transportation (nationally, it’s 26%). Nationally, freight railroads produced 0.7% of greenhouse gas emissions, despite hauling 40% of freight ton-miles. Trucks produced 24%, while (cars produce 62% of the transportation sector’s greenhouse gasses).

SOURCE: Association of American Railroads, The Environmental Benefits of Moving Freight by Rail, June 2017, and Vermont Comprehensive Energy Plan, 2016

Moving People by Rail vs. Cars

  • The U.S. transportation system is 96% petroleum dependent, accounts for 71% of the country’s oil use, and consumes 25% of the world’s net oil output.     
  • U.S. motorists’ fuel consumption alone accounts for 11% of the world’s total oil production.
  • Amtrak trains are 30% more fuel-efficient than traveling by car, and 8% more efficient than airlines.
  • Public transportation saves the U.S. 4.2 billion gallons of gasoline every year.
  • Trains are the only public transportation mode that can run on electricity over long distances at high speeds.
  • New locomotives will be even more green. New standards will cut trains’ particulate emissions by up to 90% and nitrogen oxide emissions by up to 80%.

SOURCE: Energy consumption facts from Amtrak and the Association of Rail Passengers