Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Rail Freight Fuel Efficiency Has Doubled Since 1980

On Earth Day (April 22, 2010) the Association of American Railroads announced that "the nation’s freight railroads in 2009 averaged 480 ton-miles to the gallon when moving a ton of freight. 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 (see chart above). In 2009, railroads generated 67 percent more ton-miles than in 1980, while using 18 percent less fuel.

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, helping make rail four times more fuel efficient than trucks."

MP: This is just one of many efficiency gains over time that have contributed to making 2009 the "Most Energy-Efficent Economy in U.S. History," see this recent CD post showing that the U.S. economy used less total energy in 2009 than in 1997. The significant improvements in rail fuel efficiency over time also illustrates that many of the gains in energy efficiency over time are market-driven to achieve cost savings, and not always as a result of government mandates and environmental regulations.

15 Comments:

At 5/04/2010 9:48 PM, Anonymous Lyle said...

It would interesting to see what the numbers looked like in the age of steam railroads. I am informed that the engines were less than 10% efficient, versus about 30% today. It would then show the long trend upwards, all be it with a loss of romance in railroading (a steam locomotive is far more romantic than a diesel-electric).
Note that this reinforces a need to build up our freight infrastructure to move as much freight by rail as possible.

 
At 5/04/2010 11:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't beleive it. Those numbers seem incredible to me, planned to make a PR point.

I'd like to see an independent audit. I beleive that a freight train can get that kind of mileage, but I'm not sure I beleive it as an industry average.

I've seen my Prius average 59.4 MPG over 400 miles, but that isn't the usual situation, which runs from 51 to 54.

Anyway, they makeit sound like a gallon of fuel is a gallon of fuel. I think locomotives burn bunker C or something,which has more energy per gallon than diesel because it is much heavier, just as diesel weighs more than gas.

It would be better ot make a door to door comparison. That ton of freight moved by rail is also going to need two trucks to complete the job, one at each end.

Looked at as a transportation system, instead of as competing modes the rail option is better in some cases, but yu need to consider both fuel efficiency AND economic efficiency.

You hate to have high dollar goods hanging around waiting to be loaded and a train set made up, while your competitors are whistling doen the road at 70 mph on that inefficient truck.

I think freight trains average around 25-30 MPH, over all. I think the usual trade works out if you are going over 600 miles by train.

I like trains, but let's have real numbers, please.

 
At 5/05/2010 9:17 AM, Anonymous morganovich said...

there was a very interesting piece in the economist this week about electricity usage per $ of GDP in a number of countries.

http://www.economist.com/business-finance/displaystory.cfm?story_id=16015467&fsrc=rss

 
At 5/05/2010 1:40 PM, Anonymous Ian Random said...

"One interesting outcome, shown in Figure 9 based on the National Transportation
Statistics, is that the freight system has become more labor efficient since 1978 but not
more energy efficient. This should lead to a serious consideration of whether our national
transportation policies are moving us away from allocative efficiency."


http://trb.org/conferences/railworkshop/background-McCullough.pdf

 
At 5/05/2010 1:58 PM, Blogger Ron H. said...

>"I don't beleive it. Those numbers seem incredible to me, planned to make a PR point."

Do you own a trucking company, or work for one? If not, your apparent advocacy against rail freight make no sense. Other than questioning the numbers, what is your point?

The original post only suggests that rail freight is efficient in terms of fuel use, and this efficiency has improved over time.

If you question the numbers presented, why don't you refute them with facts, instead of making various arguments that either state the obvious, or are irrelevant?

Examples:

>"I'd like to see an independent audit."

Who would be willing to pay for such an audit just because you don't believe?

>"I've seen my Prius average 59.4 MPG over 400 miles"

What?? What does your Prius have to do with anything?

>"Anyway, they makeit sound like a gallon of fuel is a gallon of fuel."

There's no mention of fuel types in the post, or in the AAR article.

>"That ton of freight moved by rail is also going to need two trucks to complete the job, one at each end."

You're right; the railroads still don't offer door to door rail service.

>"You hate to have high dollar goods hanging around waiting to be loaded..."

I can only assume that those responsible for shipping can chose the combination of speed and cost that best suits their needs. How is this relevant to railroad fuel efficiency?

>"I like trains, but let's have real numbers, please."

As before, if you don't like these numbers, please provide your own, with supporting information.

 
At 5/05/2010 2:06 PM, Blogger Ron H. said...

>"This should lead to a serious consideration of whether our national
transportation policies are moving us away from allocative efficiency."


Do you suppose Central Planning is aware of this paper? As busy as they are directing all our lives, they may have missed it. Perhaps you should call it to their attention.

 
At 5/05/2010 2:06 PM, Anonymous grant said...

YES! Can MP's post data on how this was achived

 
At 5/05/2010 3:06 PM, Anonymous gettingrational said...

480 miles to the gallon for a ton of payload. No wonder Charlie Munger and Warren Buffett bought Burlington Northern. They bought a massive system for low book value and a management/worker team that consistently increases efficiency. That will provide a steadily increasing stream of dividends to Berkshire Hathaway investors.

 
At 5/05/2010 4:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What does your Prius have to do with anything?

Trains have very low rolling resistance while cars have rolling resistance many times greater. Your prius uses pneumatic tires on a road while a train is steel vs steel. Your prius isn't designed to haul a load, you do get that this is per ton of freight, right? Not mpg of the entire train which is completely different.

In addition your prius runs on gasoline and the diesel electric locomotives run on diesel - which is more efficient.

 
At 5/05/2010 6:59 PM, Blogger Ron H. said...

>"Your prius isn't designed to haul a load, you do get that this is per ton of freight, right? Not mpg of the entire train which is completely different."

Yes, ANON, everyone gets this. That's why, with all the differences you've pointed out, it doesn't make sense that you brought a Prius into a discussion of rail freight fuel usage.

Everyone knows that a Prius is NOTHING like a freight train, so what point did you hope to make with the Prius?

 
At 5/05/2010 7:00 PM, Anonymous Dave said...

Anonymous,

Keep in mind that a loaded freight train weighs in at 12,000 tons, therefore when it moves it moves 1 mile it has clocked about 8,000-10,000 ton miles (taking out the weight of the cars and locomotives based on a SWAG).

At 480 ton miles/gallon, a freight train is burning over 16 gallons of diesel fuel per train mile. Doesn't that sound about right?

 
At 5/05/2010 7:11 PM, Anonymous Dave said...

Ian Random commented ""One interesting outcome, shown in Figure 9 based on the National Transportation
Statistics, is that the freight system has become more labor efficient since 1978 but not
more energy efficient. This should lead to a serious consideration of whether our national
transportation policies are moving us away from allocative efficiency."

Of course, table 9 refers to the whole freight system. I suspect the drop off in ton miles/gallon after 1997 has something to do with the growth of premium services like FedEx and UPS.

 
At 5/06/2010 3:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

your apparent advocacy against rail freight make no sense.

You misread me. I have no advocacy, other than trying to achieve the best total transportation system.

Touting one kind of numbers that appears to advocate more use of one part of the system looks like advocacy to me, which is why I question the numbers.

I'm not even convinced that the numbers are necessarily wrong, only that they might be misleading, so I suggested some other ways to consider the matter.

It is only that when I see RAH RAH, 100% positive boosterism for ANYTHING my BS alarm goes off.

 
At 5/06/2010 3:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Keep in mind that a loaded freight train weighs in at 12,000 tons, therefore when it moves it moves 1 mile it has clocked about 8,000-10,000 ton miles (taking out the weight of the cars and locomotives based on a SWAG).

I don't think your SWAG is anywhere near right. The train weight to freight weight ratio has got to be higher than that. From what I can tell an average load is about half the weight of the car itself and max load is about equal to the weight of the car.

BTU per short ton mile:

Class 1 Railroads 341
Domestic Waterborne 510
Heavy Trucks 3,357
Air freight (approx) 9,600

"The energy-efficiency of both rail and truck transportation is very much dependent on the commodity hauled. Low density goods, similar to people in trains, are not very energy-efficient to haul if we are measuring such efficiency in say ton-miles per gallon (or tonne-kilometers per liter). There are many sites on the Internet that mislead the viewers by claiming that rail freight is a few times (or even several times) more energy-efficient than truck. While it's true that the estimates show rail to be much more energy efficient overall, such a comparison is misleading since rail and trucks haul quite different good. Rail is mostly hauling the heavy goods that are inherently more efficient to haul, while the trucks are mostly carrying the lighter goods that are inherently less efficient to haul. A fairer comparison would compare rail and trucks for each commodity."

And a fairer comparison would be for the actual service required wich is doo to door delivery of goods. There is no point in claiming that rail is cheaper for moving toothbrushes if it does not go to CVS.

I'm questioning the numbers for the sake of questions. They just don't look right to me.

 
At 9/06/2010 10:24 PM, Blogger Evan said...

Further points related to Anonymous's comments:

"I don't think your SWAG is anywhere near right. The train weight to freight weight ratio has got to be higher than that. From what I can tell an average load is about half the weight of the car itself and max load is about equal to the weight of the car."

The maximum allowable weight on rail for a railcar is typically 286,000 pounds. I found a car spec for an aluminum coal car with a weight of 49,400 pounds. This car could therefore carry 236,600 pounds of coal before the car would be overweight.

I also did my own calculations using actual numbers I had for coal moving in mountainous territory and came up with 668 REVENUE ton miles per US Gallon. This means that only the loaded mileage was used in the calculation, and only the weight of the coal was counted, not the weight of the railcars.

Also, modern diesel electric locomotives burn diesel, whereas some steam locomotives used Bunker C.

Trucks often make sense with time sensitive goods particulary on short hauls. Trucks are also the main competitive factor forcing railways to improve their transit times.

 

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