Freight Rail and the Greening of America

How do we protect our environment for future generations?

For freight railroads, the answer is by innovating new technologies, investing in new equipment and pioneering new ways of efficiently running our operations. With a private freight rail network that stretches 140,000 miles coast to coast, every improvement along the way can mean a big difference for America’s carbon footprint.

In 1980, President Jimmy Carter signed the Staggers Rail Act into law, partially deregulating the railroads. Since then, freight railroads have been able to earn enough revenue to invest in equipment and state-of-the-art technology that helps move goods efficiently and benefits the environment. Innovations like Genset locomotives, which rely upon a series of small engines that can be turned on and off when needed, have made freight trains both more powerful and more fuel-efficient. In 1980, a freight train could haul 2,200 tons in a single journey. Today that number is almost 3,500 tons, a difference that translates into hundreds of thousands of gallons of fuel saved.

Railroads have also invested in anti-idling technology and software that can calculate the most fuel-efficient speed for a train. By employing these innovations, a freight train can move one ton of goods more than 470 miles on a single gallon of fuel – making trains four times more fuel efficient than trucks. In fact, moving just 5 percent of freight from truck to rail would result in 9 million fewer tons of greenhouse gas emissions.

Freight rail’s commitment to a more sustainable future takes on added importance when one looks at the future demands that will be placed on the nation’s transportation network. The Department of Transportation estimates a 45 percent increase in the volume of U.S. freight shipped between 2010 and 2045. And according to the 2015 Urban Mobility Scorecard by Texas A&M Transportation Institute, road congestion is only going to get worse. Americans already lose 6.9 billion hours and 3.1 billion gallons of fuel to congestion each year. What’s a great congestion buster? Freight rail. A single freight train can take several hundred trucks off the nation’s highways – helping commuters and communities breathe easier.

A cleaner environment and less congested roads are big priorities for our nation. Freight rail helps by spending billions of its private funds each year – almost $26 billion in 2016 alone – to maintain a world-class freight transportation network. In the process, they’re  moving the raw materials and goods that keep America’s economy strong while delivery a more sustainable future.

Further Reading

America flexes its muscle through trade

Trade supports 40 million U.S. jobs. One in four manufacturing jobs depends on exporting goods. And it wouldn’t be possible without freight rail.

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How freight rail drives economic growth

Learn how freight railroads spurred $274 billion in economic activity, supported 1.5 million jobs and improved life in towns across the nation.

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