While Car MPG Stagnated, Freight Train Fuel Efficiency Went Up 104% Since 1980!

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A long freight train in the country side.

Sergey Kucherov / Getty Images

Now 480 Ton-Miles-Per-Gallon!

Cars being transported on a freight train.

Gestur Gislason / Getty Images

No doubt about it, rail is a very fuel-efficient way to transport people and stuff. The Association of American Railroads announced that in 2009, freight trains in the U.S. averaged 480 ton-miles-per-gallon. This mean that a 1-ton car would have to get 480 MPG to match it, and a 2-ton SUV would need 240 MPG! And that would be just to move the vehicles around, no other payload.

Trains are Improving Faster than Cars

Freight trains in a rail yard beside a parking lot.

lilly3 / Getty Images

What's most impressive is the improvement over the past 30 years: "Overall, freight rail fuel efficiency is up 104 percent since 1980. In 2009, railroads generated 67 percent more ton-miles than in 1980, while using 18 percent less fuel."

Some facts about freight rail:

  • One train can haul the load of 280 trucks or more.
  • In 2009, Class I railroads generated 1.53 trillion revenue ton-miles.
  • Class I railroads reported fuel consumption in freight service of 3.192 billion gallons.
  • Dividing 1.532 trillion ton-miles by 3.192 billion gallons of fuel yields 480 ton-miles per gallon. That's up from 436 in 2007 and 457 in 2008.
  • 480 was the average last year for all rail traffic across all Class I railroads - that means for some trains and some rail traffic, the corresponding figure will be much higher, while for others it will be lower.

No wonder that Warren Buffett seems to think that trains will play an important role in the future.

Via AAR, FuturePundit