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Barge versus Railroad Comparison

Have you ever wondered about the difference in freight, for example, a barge versus railroad comparison? What about adding trucking to the equation? A study was released in 2008 and the results were quite interesting.

National Waterways Foundation Releases New Study Comparing U.S. Freight Transportation Modes

Washington, DC – The National Waterways Foundation (NWF) has released a new study comparing selected societal, environmental, and the safety impacts of utilizing inland river barge transportation to highway and rail transportation. Titled “A Modal Comparison of Freight Transportation Effects on the General Public,” the study was conducted by the Texas Transportation Institute’s Center for Port and Waterways at Texas A&M University and was cost-shared with the U.S. Maritime Administration.

Peer reviewed and conducted over more than one year, the study:

  • Compares cargo capacity of trucks, trains and inland river barges. One common 15-barge river tow has the same capacity as 1,050 trucks and and 216 rail cars pulled by six locomotives.
  • Shows that barges can move a ton of cargo 576 miles with a single gallon of fuel, while trains get 413 and trucks 155 “ton-miles per gallon.”
  • Determines that, after adjusting for the differences in quantity of cargo moved by each mode, for each member of the public injured in
    a barge accident, 125.2 are injured in rail accidents and 2171.5 are injured in truck accidents. For fatalities, the rates are 155 trucking fatalities and 22.7 rail fatalities for every barge related fatality.
  • Looks at the environmental impacts of the three modes and concludes that inland waterways transport generates fewer emissions of particulate matter, hyrdocarbons, carbon monoxide and nitrous oxide than rail or truck on a per ton mile moved basis.
  • Illustrates the effects of a hypothetical river closure on the St. Louis metropolitan area; i.e., if all area river cargo was diverted to trucks on the St. Louis interstates, delays would increase by 500%, accidents would rise by 35-45% and maintenance costs would skyrocket.
  • Source: National Waterways Foundation


    A more recent study: Increased Investment in U.S. Inland Waterways

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