Earth Day is a good time to reflect on the transportation sector’s crucial role in mitigating pollution. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 26 percent of America’s greenhouse gases come from the transportation sector, including both passenger and freight movement. Railroads, given their scale of movement, have long been environmental stewards, but their commitment does not stop there. Rail investments support the development of new, more efficient locomotives as well as idling reduction technologies and other innovations.

In “Freight rail system a beacon on Earth Day,” which originally appeared in the Colorado Springs Gazette, GoRail advocate Sal Pace and Ian Jeffries, vice president for governmental affairs at the Association of American Railroads, talk about the green advantages of rail.

“Earth Day is here, and perhaps unbeknownst to many Coloradans, it is a day of special importance to the U.S. freight railroad industry. This is because there is no mode of ground transportation that is more environmentally friendly and responsible than freight rail.

Maintaining this positive presence of railroads in the U.S. requires smart public policy in Washington, D.C. that allows the industry to continue earning enough revenues to reinvest in its privately owned and maintained, 140,000-mile railroad network.

As Association of American Railroads (AAR) President and CEO Edward R. Hamberger recently made clear when honoring Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., with the annual John H. Chafee Environmental Excellence Award, railroads go hand-in-hand with environmental stewardship. It is the cleanest, most energy-efficient and most environmentally sound way to move freight.

In fact, freight rail’s gas mileage is so good that to move a ton of goods from Washington, D.C. to Denver – approximately 1,660 miles – would require less than four gallons of fuel. Freight rail today can move a ton of goods 479 miles on a single gallon of fuel. This means less trucks on the road – a single freight train can take the loads of several hundred trucks off the nation’s overcrowded highways – which means cleaner air and an overall cleaner environment. Moving freight by rail instead of trucks reduces greenhouse gas emissions by an average of 75 percent.

If just 10 percent of the long-distance freight that moves by truck moved by rail instead, fuel savings would be about 1 billion gallons per year and greenhouse gas emissions would fall by more than 10 million tons – equivalent to taking nearly two million cars off the road or planting around 240 million trees.”

GoRail advocate Rep. Frank Smizik on rail's efficiencies.
GoRail advocate Rep. Frank Smizik on rail’s efficiencies.