When you think of freight trains, what comes to mind? Loud. Graffiti covered. Blocking your way for 10+ minutes at the intersection as it lumbers by. But what if I were to tell you it was one of the greenest methods of shipping, and at least when it comes to CSX, it’s getting greener by the day?
I was surprised to learn this too. CSX, a 180+ year old company with 21,000 miles of tracks from Chicago east, really wants to walk to the talk when it comes to greening its operations. And to talk about it in 21st century terms (i.e. blogs, social media, microblogging, etc.) Which is why they went to the expense and effort to fly several of us green bloggers to Chicago, put us up in a nice hotel, and took time to learn about what we do, and tell us about what they’re up to. I think it’s admirable that a company made that much of an effort to do this right.
That said, what’s so green about them? On a basic level, there’s this: Since 1980, they have increased the fuel efficiency of their trains by 80%. No other ground based form of transportation can come even vaguely close to that achievement.
Come again? Yes, tracks need to be kept lubricated to reduce friction, particularly where the track has any degree of turn to it. What’s typically used is a petroleum based oil. CSX has been testing out a soy based lubricant, to good results so far.
What about the trains themselves?
Think of your water heater. The typical one sits there, heating water much of the day, just…waiting for you to use it. The same goes for conventional locomotives. The GenSet locomotive sidesteps this, going to a “sleep” mode when they’re inactive for a period of time. And when called to be active, they are ready to go as fast as a truck, atypical for a locomotive, which usually needs a lot of lead time, consuming fuel as it goes.
One particularly innovative measure is the use of three engines. Why three? Like a flash water heater is to a regular water heater, they come on, sequentially, only when needed. These workhorses need to push, at times, millions of pounds, moving trains from track to track in the train yard. With less continual use, there’s much less maintenance. 35% or more.
They are able to achieve this, while dramatically reducing noise, and reducing by more then 80% the Nitrous Oxide emissions, while potentially halving the CO2 emissions.
Now it must be said that CSX themselves don’t make this train. What practices set them apart?
Annually they recycle:
* 2 million gallons of oil, which they then repurpose to heat their facilities
* 200 tons of steel
* 500,000 batteries
And that’s only a partial list. For them, it is both a matter of being a good corporate citizen, and it just makes sense as a business.
Want to know more? From last week onward, several of us will be sharing our perspectives on CSX and rail based freight. Ecollo has. And so has Ars Technica. Social Mention is an excellent tool to find more, across many different media.
Next time you sit at the intersection, watching the train go by, remember that it’s likely carrying the same as 280 trucks, and that each ton on there is getting 400+ miles per gallon.
Readers: What other methods, big or small, have you found to make shipping and transport more efficient, locally, regionally, or internationally? Chime in, below.
Paul Smith is a sustainable business innovator, the founder of GreenSmith Consulting, and has an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio School of Management in San Francisco. His overarching talent is “bottom lining” complex ideas, in a way that is understandable and accessible to a variety of audiences, internal and external to a company.