U.S. Waterways: Greenhouse Gas Emissions Study

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Acting for the National Waterways Foundation (NWF), the Center for Ports and Waterways at the Texas Transportation Institute, Texas A&M University, has amended their 2007 study, “A Modal Comparison of Freight Transportation Effects on the General Public” to include a comparison of  Green House Gas (GHG) emissions between inland river barge transportation, highway and rail transportation. 
The research team focused on Carbon Dioxide (CO2) emissions, which are currently the focus of the public policy debate on Green House Gasses.  Using EPA parameters, the team calculated how much CO2 is emitted per ton mile for each mode.  Emissions per ton mile are those emissions experienced in moving one ton of cargo one mile. The team determined that the emissions of CO2 per gallon of fuel burned are roughly the same for each mode, so the comparison focused on how much cargo gets moved for that gallon of fuel.  They determined that compared to inland barge transportation, rail transport generates 39% more CO2 and trucking generates 371% more CO2.

Trucks can only produce 155 ton-miles of cargo movement per gallon of fuel and can deliver only 13,964 ton-miles of cargo movement for each ton of CO2 produced.

Railroads produce 413 ton-miles of cargo movement per gallon of fuel, allowing them to 37,207.2 tons-miles of cargo movement per ton of CO2 produced.

Inland towboats move the most cargo per gallon of fuel -- 576 ton-miles per gallon -- and thus produce the least amount of CO2 emissions per ton mile, delivering some 51,891 ton miles of cargo movement for each ton of CO2 emitted.

To put these numbers in perspective, the research team calculated that if all the cargo that moved by barge in 2005, the year of the study, were instead moved by rail, it would have resulted in an additional 2.1 million tons of CO2 in the atmosphere.  If that same cargo had moved by truck, it would have generated an additional 14.2 million tons.

“This additional research component done for the National Waterways Foundation by the Texas Transportation Institute points out the inherent environmental value of moving cargo by water where possible,”  said Peter H. Stephaich, NWF Chairman, and Chairman, Campbell Transportation Company, Inc.  “Today, more than ever, our air quality and environment is critical and this study comparing modes of transport underscores the many benefits of the inland waterways.”
The National Waterways Foundation exists to explore and communicate to America the value of its inland waterway system.

The report, “A Modal Comparison of Freight Transportation Effects on the General Public,” amended March, 2009, and a one page summary of the carbon footprint advantages of barge transportation, can be downloaded from the website of the National Waterways Foundation, www.nationalwaterwaysfoundation.org.

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