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How Intermodal Freight Can Reduce Shippers' Carbon Footprint

April 1, 2022 Kevin Baxter


A greater emphasis on intermodal freight usage offers several benefits, but perhaps the most impactful is how its use of rail can reduce shippers' carbon footprint. Intermodal freight carries far more loads on far less energy than its chief over-land competitor of truckload. Just how much environmental impact can a switch to more intermodal shipping have? According to CSX, rail is four times more fuel efficient than trucks when it comes to moving freight. In fact, if just 10% of long haul highway freight was shipped intermodally instead for a given year, it would save 12 billion - with a 'b' - gallons of fuel. And burning less fuel means a lower carbon footprint. Of course, for those also concerned about the bottom line, intermodal freight offers a variety of other benefits, too, including cost savings. And shippers may be surprised to know that intermodal options are more available than they may think.

complete guide to intermodal transportation service

What is the environmental impact of intermodal transportation?

While no shipping method is devoid of emissions, the environmental impact of intermodal transportation is among the smallest of any type of freight. In fact, it's the most environmentally friendly way to move goods over land. Here is the environmental impact of intermodal transportation by the numbers:

  • An intermodal train can carry the equivalent of 280 trucks
  • Rail can move one ton of freight 450 miles on a single gallon of fuel.
  • A train emits approximately 5.4 pounds of carbon dioxide per 100 ton-miles whereas trucks emit approximately 19.8 pounds.  
  • Trucks moving 40,000 lbs. each going 3,000 miles produces an estimated 17.4 tons of carbon emissions, while the equivalent of these trucks placed in intermodal service produces an estimated 7.0 tons of carbon emissions.

On top of these numbers, the more freight that uses intermodal, the less vehicles there are on the road. Combining the added efficiency of rail and less road congestion, the EPA estimates every ton-mile of freight that moves using rail instead of highway can reduce greenhouse emissions by two-thirds. As companies consider sustainability and environmental responsibility (plus the rising cost of fuel), intermodal becomes a more and more appealing option.

If you're ready to take the next step, at InTek Freight & Logistics, we can help. Just tell us what you need and we'll discuss how our expertise can help with the unique shipping challenges your business faces. Rather do a bit more research first? View our Freight Guides for comprehensive articles and eBooks on all things freight and logistics.

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