Supply Chain Requirement: Transportation – Rail Freight

Sector name: Transportation and Warehousing: Rail Freight

SIC Code: 48-49


Major Players



Major Issues

While rail is more fuel efficient than trucks, they still consume a lot of diesel fuel, which depend on stopping behavior, speed, and weight. Rail can disrupt local ecosystems through its railroad infrastructure by destroying habitat, killing animals crossing the tracks, and hindering migrations. Trains also produce a lot of noise, which can be stressful and damaging to people and wildlife.


Key Requirements

Most companies have a Code of Conduct having environmental compliance and safety requirements to operate accordingly to protect the environment and human health and safety. They also have procurement standards which look at the total cost of ownership (such as the quality, service, administration, and price) and documentation of compliance with all applicable laws and regulations.


Key Certifications

  • The John H. Chafee Environmental Excellence Award – Presented to both a railroad employee and member of Congress who demonstrate environmental stewardship
  • US EPA SmartWay Transport Award – Honors organizations that achieve or exceed the fuel reduction and environmental performance goals they are working toward through their participation in the SmartWay Transport Partnership
  • LEED – Rating for green buildings and applicable to train stations and transfer terminals
  • Energy Star – Rating for use of energy efficient technologies and buildings
  • Eco-Rail Mark (Japan) – Recognition for business that support rail freight to ship goods.  In Japan, shipping by rail is considered more environmentally friendly than shipping by air or truck.  Both companies and products can be certified.


Getting Started

Rail Companies, like those listed above, can implement several engineering practices to them lower their impact on the environment.  They can distribute power by positioning engine cars in the middle of the train to reduce the power, and thus the energy, required to move.  Better rail lubrication also reduces friction and wheel-rail wear-and-tear.  Finally, using low torque bearings reduces the weight of rail cars and saves fuel.

Small businesses, on the other hand, can practice more administrative tactics, such as converting any paper inventory and tracking into a comprehensive and easily accessible digital format.  Additionally, consider buying supplies in bulk as much as possible and maximize how rail transportation is used


Going Further

Again, rail companies can employee different engineering tactics, such as anti-idling systems (auxiliary power units & start-stop systems) or warming the engines so that locomotives can be shut down in cold weather.  Additionally, investing in clean diesel locomotives or retrofits helps reduce the energy use and emissions of the trains. 

Depending on the number of businesses in one area that rely on shipping products materials, it is also possible to form partnerships with other businesses to work together for shipping needs.  Similarly, business in similar industries can come together to ensure that similar products are shipped in and out of communities with the most economic and environmental efficiency. 


Advanced Steps

Rail Companies can invest in “Genset” locomotives, which have several separate engines that turn on and off depending on how much power is needed.  On the ecological side, rail companies can also plan for non-invasive wildlife and vegetation programs for rail maintenance and create resource recovery programs for used oil, batteries, and scrap metal from trains and rail lines.

Additionally, rail companies can replace and upgrade energy efficiency in all buildings and yard facilities locations.


Best Practices Leaders


BNSF improved its fueling and wastewater treatment facility by installing secondary and triple containment liners w/ leak detection systems, double-walling underground piping and diesel storage tanks, and reducing impurities in wastewater discharges.


Canadian Pacific

Canadian pacific equipped more than 80% of its locomotives w/ anti-idling technologies to shut down the engines when not in use.


Canadian National

Canadian National implemented policies that took wildlife and vegetation into account such as scheduling work during periods of low wildlife occurrence, providing alternative access across rails, and physically removing vegetation rather than using herbicides.



CSX has started an extensive recycling program collecting scrap metal from old locomotives, rail cars, and rails, batteries in locomotives and signal operations, and used oil for heating their facilities. They also double-stack clearances, allowing rail carriers to stack intermodal containers on top of one another

 Administratively, CSX uses only green cleaning products for its trains and facilities, as well as water-based and low-VOC paints. 

CSX’s “No Spike Left Behind” program is used to identify materials and equipment at rail yards and railroads for reuse or recycling.  Additionally, CSX is taking part in a “Trees for Tracks” program to plant more trees than they remove for building and maintaining tracks, and working with the Environmental Defense Fund’s Climate Corps that recruits MBA students to develop energy efficiency plans. 



KCS reduced the average age (and thus increasing the efficiency & reliability) of their fleet through smart purchasing, leases, and overhauls of locomotives.  Infrastructure modifications—such as straightening track curves, lowering track grades, and lubricating rails with non-petroleum lubricants—increased fuel efficiency. 


Norfolk Southern

Norfolk Southern implemented a system-wide initiative to replace and upgrade lighting in all 600 of its buildings as well as 300 yard facilities locations.  They also voluntarily removed railroad ties from an unused industrial site and sent them to an energy-production incineration plant.


Union Pacific

Union Pacific has implemented several sustainability initiatives, especially efforts that reduced its emissions.  It has deployed more than 160 Genset Switcher locomotives, each reducing emissions by 80-90 percent from previous models, upgrading refrigerated boxcars to reduce diesel particulate matter emissions by 50 percent, and employing a program that rewards locomotive engineers with fuel cards for personal use based on efforts to conserve fuel.

Working with other major North American railroads, Union Pacific has helped create national pools that increase service availability to customers, reduces empty miles traveled, and shrinks fleet size.

In terms of its engineering, Union Pacific is getting the most out of its railroad ties by using concrete railroad ties in high traffic and high tonnage areas and having a monitoring system that tracks replacement cycles so that ties are replaced only when the limits of their useful life is reached.  Union Pacific is also building railcars out of lighter materials to reduce fuel load and reducing wind resistance and number of empty slots in intermodal travel by matching rail car length with container length


Key Resources

  • One Rail Coalition provides various studies, reports, fact sheets, and event opportunities about the rail industry.
  • Association of American Railroads has created a carbon calculator that determines emissions based on number of train cars, origin & destination, and the commodity being transported.
  • Freight Rail Works is an interactive website about the freight rail industry highlighting locomotive fuel efficiency, greenhouse gas reductions by switching from truck to train, and shipping statistics of goods such as coal, ethanol, and wind turbine parts.
  • Volpe National Transportation Systems Center conducts research designed to stimulate technological innovation and utilize small business to meet federal research and development needs.
  • Created by the Federal Railroad Administration, the CREATE Freight Noise and Vibration Model is assess noise and vibration impact assessment procedures to comply to Railroad Noise Emissions Compliance Regulations.  The FRA has also created the Quiet Zone Calculator to determine noise impact from trains.  You must sign up to use the calculator
  • The Environmental Protection Agency has several relevant initiatives and programs, including:
    • Brownfields Economic Redevelopment Initiative – Individual railroads that are abandoned, idled, or underused make up significant tracts of property in the U.S. and qualify for redevelopment and reuse
    • SmartWay
      • Rail Fleet Tool is a data collection, evaluation, and guidance tool
      • National Clean Diesel Campaign promotes clean air strategies by working with to reduce diesel emissions, including a Diesel Emissions Quantifier tool to evaluate clean diesel projects 

Key Words

Freight rail + …

  • Fuel efficiency
  • Environmental stewardship
  • Sustainability
  • Going green
This entry was posted in Supply Chain Information and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Fatal error: Uncaught Exception: 12: REST API is deprecated for versions v2.1 and higher (12) thrown in /homepages/2/d283115547/htdocs/wp-content/plugins/seo-facebook-comments/facebook/base_facebook.php on line 1273