Shipping by rail instead of trucks reduces pollution (on average) by two thirds, noise by one half, uses only 25% of the fuel and produces only 23% as much greenhouse gasses. Greenhouse gas emissions are directly related to fuel consumption.
In 2016, U.S. freight railroads moved a ton of freight an average of 483 miles per gallon (up from 235 miles in 1980). That’s a 99 % improvement, thanks to more efficient locomotives, reduced idling, and improved train-handling techniques.
If just 10 % of the freight that now moves by Class 7 or Class 8 (the largest) trucks moved by rail instead, fuel savings would be around 1.5 billion gallons per year and annual greenhouse gas emissions would fall by approximately 17 million tons — equivalent to removing around 3.2 million cars from the highways for a year, or planting 400 million trees.
Here in Vermont, 47% of greenhouse gasses are produced by transportation (nationally, it's 26%). Nationally, freight railroads produced 0.7% of greenhouse gas emissions, despite hauling 40% of freight ton-miles. Trucks produced 24%, while (cars produce 62% of the transportation sector’s greenhouse gasses).
SOURCE: Association of American Railroads, The Environmental Benefits of Moving Freight by Rail, June 2017, and Vermont Comprehensive Energy Plan, 2016
SOURCE: Energy consumption facts from Amtrak and the Association of Rail Passengers