On reducing carbon emissions, railroad gives credit where credit is due

Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway freight train near Essex, Calif.
Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway freight train near Essex, Calif.

In the United States, there is what is referred to as a Class I (read: “Class One”) freight railroad. America has a total of seven of this class.

In an Association of American Railroads (AAR) document, the AAR points out, America’s Class I rail carriers are freight line haul railroads with 2011 operating revenues of at least $433.2 million. Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway (BNSF), one of the seven, provides service to 28 states and two Canadian provinces on 32,500 route-miles of track.

In a company news release, BNSF recognized and credited its customers for contributions to good environmental stewardship.

“BNSF customers continue to make significant reductions in carbon dioxide emissions shipping their freight by rail instead of entirely over the road. In 2012, BNSF customers again reduced their carbon dioxide equivalent emissions (CO2e) by more than 30 million metric tons. That is equivalent to eliminating the consumption and resultant emissions from more than three billion gallons of diesel fuel, or six million passenger vehicles.”

Moreover, from the AAR Web site on its “Environment” page, there is this: “In 2011, railroads moved a ton of freight an average of 469 miles per gallon of fuel.”

Imagine being able to drive a car nearly 500 miles on a single gallon of gas.

And due to their ability to reduce roadway miles traveled, trains are one of the most environmentally friendly ways of moving both passengers and freight. A single train can remove more than 280 truck or 1,100 vehicle movements from roadways, the AAR notes.

On the whole as of late, the U.S. freight rail industry has been investing considerable sums of capital to add capacity and improve throughput and transit time on its lines. More than $20 billion in all was spent in 2011 on railroad infrastructure upgrades and between 1980 and 2010 the industry invested $480 billion on rail infrastructure maintenance and modernization. (See: “Making the grade – Part 1: American infrastructure report card: Rails”).

By looking at considerations such as “commodity type and weight, and distance traveled by rail,” BNSF was then able to calculate the CO2e savings. “The calculation also considers the different fuel efficiencies of trailer, container or carload shipments. The calculation methodology was developed in consultation with Clear Carbon Consulting,” the news release noted.

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