Among freight transportation modes, railways are considered a more environmentally friendly option for shippers or customers looking to transport larger volumes of goods while emitting lower carbon emissions.
Indeed, freight railroads account for 0.5% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and only 1.9% of transportation-related GHG emissions, according to the Association of American Railroads (AAR ), citing a statistic from the Environmental Protection Agency.
The AAR also estimates that if 25% of road traffic traveling at least 750 miles is switched to rail, it would result in GHG emission reductions of approximately 13.1 million tonnes. Increase that percentage to 50% and GHG emission reductions would drop by about 26.2 million tonnes, according to AAR.
Rail has always been considered three to four times more efficient than truck, but Norfolk Southern analysis indicates that rail is three to six times more efficient with emissions savings of up to 90% in some cases , according to Josh Raglin, N.S. (NYSE: NSC) Director of Sustainability.
In particular, shippers can learn about emissions reductions from rail transportation through online carbon calculators provided by the AAR and a number of Class I railroads.
What is a carbon calculator?
Carbon calculators use data such as the number of wagons in a train, the distance traveled and the goods transported to estimate carbon emission reductions.
Users find that a carbon calculator can help them see how they can reduce emissions throughout the supply chain.
“At least 20% of our major customers are committed to science-based emission reduction targets, and our role in the supply chain remains sustainable,” Raglin told FreightWaves, noting that NS has a carbon line that he reviewed earlier this year. . “Our calculator helps our customers integrate carbon into their logistics with a high degree of credibility.”
NS first developed its carbon calculator in 2008, but it started getting requests in 2020 for more ship emissions data, Raglin said. The current iteration of NS includes fuel consumption data for locomotives every 15 minutes, then this consumption data is applied to each car based on its weight. Combustion data is tallied as cars move through the network, he said.
“Our solution actually goes beyond the car and includes external factors, like fuel consumption for intermodal container handling equipment, so we are able to capture emissions throughout the life cycle of each car. “, said Raglin. “It also covers the entire US rail and highway network. So really, we developed one because we had the tools, the data, and we knew our customers would benefit from it.
Canadian Pacific (NYSE: CP) is the latest Class I railroad to have an online carbon emissions calculator. CP says its calculator uses bespoke emissions calculations and incorporates customer-specific shipping details to estimate route- and commodity-specific GHG emissions.
“CP recognizes that its ability to influence GHG emissions reductions extends beyond its operations and through its suppliers and value chain network,” CP said in a press release. “The Carbon Emissions Calculator provides a framework for engaging across the value chain to identify and collaborate on opportunities to reduce GHG emissions within supply chains.”
Other Class I railroads have had online carbon calculators for over a decade.
Union Pacific (NYSE:UNP) says its Carbon Emissions Estimator, launched in 2011 and viewed more than 1,300 times in 2021, helps customers calculate their potential carbon emissions savings from shipping with UP compared to the transport of goods by truck. The Western United States Railroad also provides customers with annual emissions savings estimates upon request.
UP estimates that in 2021, customers eliminated approximately 22.9 million metric tons of GHG emissions by choosing rail transportation over truck, which is equivalent to removing 4.5 million cars from our highways or plant 350 million trees.
CSX (NASDAQ: CSX) says it created its online carbon calculator in 2008 to measure the carbon emissions savings of specific rail shipments and provide comparative data between transportation choices.
“The calculator compares the carbon emissions generated by rail freight to those of long-haul trucks on similar routes,” Raghu Chatrathi, CSX’s senior director of public safety, health and environment, told Freight Waves. “The calculator also offers shippers the opportunity to better understand the environmental benefits of shipping their goods by rail.”
According to CSX, “[The calculator] not only helps our customers make informed supply chain decisions, but also helps educate consumers on the path items take to get to store shelves or their front door. The tool demonstrates our commitment to responsible business and helps consumers understand how rail freight positively affects the carbon footprint of the goods they buy.
Meanwhile, BNSF’s Carbon Estimator determines reduced emissions by measuring energy consumption, such as diesel fuel consumed, and multiplying that by emission factors established by the EPA.
“The Carbon Calculator considers different product segments to show the impact of logistics choices when selecting long-haul options,” BNSF (NYSE: BRK.B) said in a statement. “Choosing rail as an option for a long-haul carrier can lead to a reduction of up to 75% in greenhouse gas emissions.”
Although the AAR says its carbon calculator is for informational purposes only, it allows shippers to see how many GHG emissions could be reduced and how many trucks could be taken off the road. Inputs for the calculator include the number of cars on a train, the route the train would take, and the cargo the train would carry.
The AAR said it uses averages derived from industry data, noting that the actual emissions associated with a specific train may vary depending on the type and number of locomotives as well as other unique railroad characteristics. iron, product and route.
The AAR also said its rail emissions estimates assume 437.9 ton-miles per gallon of fuel based on an industry average (486.6 miles per gallon) adjusted down 10% for take geographical factors into account.
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