The Environmental Benefits of RailRunner® Technology

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In addition to the RailRunner Terminal Anywhere® system providing a low cost container transportation solution and a gateway to the international container shipping network, it also encompasses significant and unparalleled environmental attributes complementary to the industry’s developing environmental standards. The RailRunner system collectively provides a range of major environmental advantages which are increasingly becoming more and more important as concern about climate change grows:

  • Fuel Savings. The most important environmental benefit comes from the fuel savings in shifting freight traffic from the less efficient highway system to the more efficient rail system. This reduces the carbon emissions produced, as well as the shipping cost.
  • Energy Efficiency. Rail transportation is significantly more energy-efficient than shipping by truck. On the rail, a gallon of diesel fuel can transport a ton of freight approximately 400 miles; on the highway, a gallon of diesel transports a ton of freight a far shorter distance (estimates vary from 80 to 120 miles). Thus, every ton-mile of freight that moves on rail, rather than road reduces the fuel use by approximately 70 to 80 percent (Energy Information Administration, U.S. Department of Energy). This reduces not only the cost, but also the carbon footprint. For every 100 tons of cargo that moves by rail instead of road for 1,000 miles (100,000 ton-miles), CO2 emissions are reduced by 13,105 pounds.

    The long-term implications of this are enormous. RailRunner research shows that moving just one percent of the current truck freight in the 300 to 1,200 mile segment from road to rail could reduce annual fuel consumption by approximately 100 million gallons. This would translate into a reduction of approximately 2.2 billion pounds of CO2 emissions per year.

Yet, the RailRunner system saves even more fuel because it is much more efficient than standard intermodal rail. The RailRunner chassis is specifically designed to carry a standard shipping container, unlike a flat-car, which is designed to carry a variety of cargoes and packaging. The RailRunner chassis is essentially a light-rail freight vehicle. The total tare weight of the RailRunner rail car, beyond the container and cargo, is only 46,800 pounds. This includes the chassis and the bogie that transforms the chassis from a highway carrier to a rail vehicle. The typical flat-car used to carry containers today weighs about 60,000 pounds, so the RailRunner system results in a savings of 13,200 pounds or approximately 6.5 tons. For a 1,000-mile shipment, that means a reduction of 6,500 ton-miles and another 362 pounds of carbon emissions, compared with shipping containers on flat-cars.

RailRunner complements the existing double-stack network by providing additional rail access for getting more trucks of the highway and onto rail, even in traffic lanes where double-stack is not available.

Beyond Efficiencies

The RailRunner system provides additional environmental benefits beyond just fuel and energy efficiencies:

Traffic Congestion. By moving traffic from road to rail in metropolitan areas in particular, RailRunner can help ease the problems associated with overtaxed roadway systems that create localized environmental problems. Specifically, the overall carbon footprint of idle vehicle exhaust and the potential number of truck related accidents can be reduced. Additionally, timely freight delivery is more likely due to the avoidance of the congested highway system.

Noise Pollution. The RailRunner system incorporates two features that substantially reduce the transit noise produced when compared to conventional rail cars: Each bogie includes radial steering of the rail wheels, thus reducing the noise associated with steel-on-steel through curves, as well as a unique airbag suspension system, which further dampens rail transit noise by transmitting less frequency through the steel structure to the body.

Cargo Protection. Containerized cargo is both secure and protected when coupled to the bogies since the container doors cannot be opened due to the limited spacing between the container systems. Additionally, air-cushioned suspension provides better ride quality and generally reduces potential in-transit damage caused by track vibrations. With this enhanced air-ride suspension it is likely less packaging material would be required, depending upon the cargo specification.

Identity Preservation. As a result of cargo being loaded into containers close to the production source, RailRunner systems provide shippers the ability to preserve the increased value of identity-preserved goods, such as specialized agri-products.

Additional Resources

EIA/DOE Gasoline and Diesel Fuel Update

EIA/DOE Emissions of Greenhouse Gases Report

EIA/DOE U.S. Carbon Dioxide Emissions from Energy Sources 2008 Flash Estimate Shipping News

Association of American RailRoads (AAR)

American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association (ASLRRA)

Intermodal Association of North America


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