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Freight rail fuel efficiency boosted by 101%. What’s behind this?

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Typically, when you associate reducing greenhouse emissions to an industry, rail is certainly not the first thing that comes to mind. But time and time again, one of the oldest transportation industries continues to find ways to stay with the times – often superseding expectations. In this case, we are talking about the rail industry’s ability, over the last few decades, to cut greenhouse emissions and become significantly environmentally friendly.

Just look at the diagram below. When compared to other modes of transportation, only pipelines, and waterborne freight are more fuel efficient than freight rail, which makes up only 2.3% of total greenhouse gas emissions by all modes of transportation.

How much more efficient and environmentally friendly is rail as a mode of transportation in comparison to the other options? Well, according to the Association of American Railroads (AAR), if shippers moved just 10% of their current freight movement practices from trucking to rail, they would experience fuel savings of over 800 million gallons a year, in addition to a significant reduction of annual greenhouse gas emissions by over 9 million tons. To put that into perspective, the result of shifting just 10% of freight movement from truck to rail would be equivalent to pulling 1.8 million cars off the road or planting more than 215 million trees.

Additionally, moving freight by rail significantly reduces highway congestion, which in 2014 cost close to $160 billion in 6.9 billion hours of wasted time and 3.1 billion gallons of wasted fuel. Such an impressive eco-footprint begs the question of how one of the oldest transportation and freight movement industries has managed to stay ahead of the pack and consistently improve efficiency.

Staying up-to-date with the latest technology and innovations in the market has been key. Software solutions, particularly, have played a very critical and consequential role in enhancing the operating efficiency of moving freight by rail.


How have innovative software solutions boosted freight rail fuel efficiency?

Modern software technologies enable shippers and railroads to identify the most suitable way to move freight. For example, the ShipX Rates application comes with a built-in recommendation system that allows shippers to identify the most ideal and time/cost efficient route they can take. This is linked to the core functionality of the system, which maintains rates, surcharge, and routing information- giving shippers the ability to evaluate and choose the best option from an array of multi-modal sourcing picks.

Additionally, systems like ShipX Trax are increasingly being used to help track and monitor the massive number of shipments being sent across North America – all in a secure platform. Such systems also provide shippers with the vital feature of being able to foresee delays, often costly in terms of time and money, well ahead of time. By being able to do this, the ultimate result is the reduction of the overall carbon footprint, given that goods are being moved in the most optimal and efficient way possible.

Another key area that logistics software solutions are playing a role is in enhancing the overall data and business intelligence information made available to shippers. Modern solutions do more than just facilitate the performance of mundane tasks. Instead, they generate newer operations enhancement opportunities by collecting monumental amounts of data with each performed operation.

Comprehensive transportation management systems, like the ShipX Portal application, provide shippers and freight movers with the ability to have complete oversight of operations and complete access to important data. With business intelligence tools built into systems, shippers have access to graphical and well-organized data, which they can use in making business decisions going forward. For example, BI data could be used in determining the best time, ideal train speed, and the most optimal quantity of a particular commodity to ship as efficiently as possible. The successful utilization of this data helps shippers save money and freight movers make money. All in all, while reducing the negative impact on the environment.

By combining highly advanced systems with the insight and expertise of shippers and operators, spanning many decades, the industry has equipped itself with a powerful duo of precision and knowledge that has continuously contributed to bolstering the efficiency of moving freight by rail. In the next decade, there is an expected decline in railroad market share from 14.5% to 13.8%, with trucking’s share expected to grow noticeably. However, the numbers mentioned above indicate that moving freight by rail is still a very much viable option and will likely continue to be so moving forward – especially when you look at the mode’s staggering time/cost efficiency.

With the industry continuously evolving and new technologies entering the world of logistics, stay tuned to this feed for the latest!



Association of American Railroads

American Trucking Associations

Freight Rail Works


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