Rail is much more fuel efficient than trucks when measured by freight haul per fuel unit, according to a new study released by the US Federal Railroad Administration.

The fuel efficiency, calculated by ton-miles per gallon, varies from 156 to 512 for rail and from 68 to 133 for trucks.

The Comparative Evaluation of Rail and Truck Fuel Efficiency on Competitive Corridors study by ICF International found rail to be more fuel efficient than trucks on all the 23 competitive movements it studied, which included origin, destination, route, commodity and service offering.

Overall, the freight rail fuel efficiency of class I freight railroads in the US increased by 22% between 1990 to 2006 compared with an 11% rise between 1992 and 2002 for short-haul trucks and an 8% rise for long-haul trucks over the same period.

The reasons for increased rail fuel efficiency include the acquisition of more than 13,000 new locomotives with cleaner engines, electronic controls, improvement in diesel-electric locomotives, increasing use of longer and double stack trains, track and signalling improvements and the use of technology to reduce the number of wagons running empty.

FRA Administrator Joseph Szabo said utilising America’s freight rail system can lead to significant fuel savings.

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“The environmental benefits of these positive changes over the last two decades are enormous and we look forward to working with the freight rail industry to make sure these gains continue,” Szabo said.