Tuesday, March 25, 2008

423 miles a gallon

CSX railroads is running radio ads now saying a train can "move a ton of freight 423 miles on a single gallon of fuel." That's diesel fuel, by the way.

Comparing this to hybrid cars, the commercial concludes with "too bad we can't all drive a train." You can listen to it here if you like.

That's pretty wild, so I asked the company for more information. This is from Gary Sease, a CSX spokesman:
On average, railroads can move one ton of freight 423 miles on one gallon of fuel. This is a rail industry statistic calculated by dividing the 2006 annual revenue ton miles (1.772 trillion) by the fuel consumed (4.192 billion), which equates to the industry average of one ton of freight 423 miles on one gallon of fuel. (The 2006 data was the last full year for which total industry data are available.)
Revenue ton miles are those miles for which railroads are compensated for moving freight. (We move empty cars to reposition them, and we move company materials for which we are not compensated). The industry did not include fuel consumed by passenger trains -- just freight trains.

I asked a few follow ups:
What's the formula for figuring revenue ton miles?
A revenue ton-mile is the movement of one ton of freight, for revenue, one mile. A ton of a railroad's own ballast, moved in work trains, would not be counted because the railroad is not getting any revenue for moving the ballast.

Has an outside group (whether government or watchdog) backed this up, so that it's not just an industry calculation?

The (Association of American Railroads) 423 miles per gallon can be verified by anyone that retrieves the data from the Annual Report R-1 that each Class I railroad files with the Surface Transportation Board. Gallons of fuel are in Schedule 750 of the R-1, and revenue ton-miles are in Schedule 755. If the gallons of fuel used for empty freight cars were known and excluded, the 423 would be even higher.

Many railroads use gross ton-miles per gallon instead of revenue ton-miles per gallon. This is appropriate for their purpose, but the AAR's purpose is to measure efficiency in hauling freight -- so revenue ton-miles are used. GTMs per gallon will be higher because the weight of the freight car is included.

There you go. Sounds reasonable. But I'm unlikely to retrieve CSX's annual report R-I from the Surface Transportation Board today.

4 comments:

hanging_on_by_fingertips said...

If this is so, why are they currently charging a 40% fuel surcharge on my frieght bills? A $2000 bill is now $2800. Thats a darn expensive gallon of fuel.

They are using fuel as a profit center, just like the major trucking companies. What most dont know is that the fuel was negotiated up to a year ago. They probably have less than $2.50 per gallon in the fuel. But they base the fuel surchage on the price at the pump. A TOTAL SCAM!

Dave said...

"What most dont know is that the fuel was negotiated up to a year ago. They probably have less than $2.50 per gallon in the fuel."

If this is true, than the fuel the negotiated this year would be around $4.65 a gallon, Are you going to gripe about that? That's what happens when you look at one side of things. Just like when the Oil companies were not making much money in the 80s and 90s, and now they are making up for those loses, People are gripping about them making record profits. Open BOTH eyes!

tjbartol said...

What is the difference in friction losses between a steel wheel rolling on a steel rail (similar to a single dimension roller bearing) compared to a rubber tire rolling on a paved surface? This could measure a difference in energy consumption between a train and a truck, if it is based on, say, a 100 car freight train and the number of trucks that would haul a like amount of the same weight in freight.

Tong said...

"What is the difference in friction losses between a steel wheel rolling on a steel rail (similar to a single dimension roller bearing) compared to a rubber tire rolling on a paved surface?"

This is a great difference (although I do not know what it is off hand.

Another factor is the air resistance. A train experiences a lot less air resistance per ton of cargo than a truck or a passenger car.