Intermodal Service ‘Reduces CO2 52%’

by | Feb 8, 2013

Shipping a container on the Cold Train refrigerated express intermodal service from Washington State’s Port of Quincy to Chicago or from Chicago to Quincy reduces the shipment’s carbon footprint by 52 percent compared to a long-haul truck, says energy services company McKinstry.

The report validates a previous estimation of carbon emissions reported by the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railway’s Carbon Estimator Tool, McKinstry says.

The Port of Quincy intermodal terminal, located in central Washington, sits on a key cross-country rail mainline: the Seattle-Chicago line. It’s one of the few stops that the BNSF Intermodal Z Train makes to or from Chicago.

To assist the Port of Quincy and shippers and receivers — responding to requests from customers, government agencies, interested stakeholders and organizations about the carbon emissions benefits of shipping by intermodal rail — Seattle-based McKinstry verified that carbon emissions calculations in shipping to and from the port’s intermodal terminal are accurate, and confirmed shipping cargo via Cold Train produces a smaller carbon footprint than shipping by long-haul truck from or to Quincy.

According to the report, the US Department of Transportation, the EPA and the World Resources Institute say freight delivered by rail has a lower carbon impact than long-haul truck transportation, with anywhere from three to four times improvement in fuel efficiency and CO2 emissions.

The Port of Quincy and BNSF Railway launched the Cold Train express intermodal service in 2010. In addition to reducing CO2, when compared to other rail delivery methods for the transportation of fresh produce and other perishable agricultural products, the intermodal solution is the most efficient, according to McKinstry. While a boxcar can hold a larger load, it takes more time and manpower to transfer cargo from the truck to the boxcar and then the boxcar to the truck when the train reaches its destination.

The intermodal shipments, on the other hand, can be lifted more quickly from a truck trailer directly on to the train (see photo), and truck trailers are the only type of container BNSF uses on its express train service. Because the express service is shorter — basically nonstop between Quincy and Chicago — it maintains more consistent emission from the diesel generators required for refrigeration. This means it emits less CO2 compared to a boxcar, which has longer load times and a longer trip.

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