By Christopher M. Williams
CSX claims that just one of their train cars can carry a ton of goods for 436 miles on a single gallon of fuel. Rail is popular, or at least increasing in popularity with higher gas prices. But is this claim true?
Greenwashing, a tactic used by companies to give their product an environmental spin is commonplace, from Wal-Mart's “local” signs in their produce section (it's not) to the paper and lumber industries claim that with every product purchased, two trees will be planted (many of those claims often prove false).
So,CSX, a national freight train company with headquarters in Jacksonville, Fla. has bought air time to better its image and drum up business. The commercials have it all , mimicking 'green' auto commercials, even ambient electronic music plays in the background. CSX claims to be the "How tomorrow moves." 436 miles to the gallon sounds good, and since CSX owns many of its rail lines, could this great mileage be opened up to commuters in some way?
My car burns a gallon to go across town, and most, if not all, semi-trucks burn a gallon an hour just idling. Yet, as snappy as the new commercials sound, there must be more involved: just like when the car dealership tells me a new model will get “up to” [insert mileage here]. I find it hard to believe that a company would give us the gas mileage, or in this case, ton miles, of a train carrying its maximum load. CSX's claims can get pretty complicated, pretty fast.
The Association of American Railroads, a group that represents freight railroads working to make the industry safe, efficient and productive, found in 2007 that one gallon of fuel could move a ton of freight 436 miles. This is double the mileage for trains from 1980. CSX's 2007 annual report also showed similar numbers. However, those numbers only account for their revenue freight cars, not, for example, for the locomotive, the caboose, or other non-revenue cars (4), which could significantly change the mileage output. It could as much cut in half the commercials claim of 436 ton miles per gallon .
Though the CSX commercials, in their attempt to simplify the issue, seem true at face-value, with deeper digging, their claims don't hold up and appear to be just another example of a little greenwashing. However, given that the average miles per gallon for a tractor-trailer truck is 4-8 with a load, rail would most likely remain overwhelmingly more efficient.