The climate case for shifting freight movement from heavy trucks to rail

A Michigan State University academic has put together data that makes the climate change case for shifting freight movement from heavy trucks and planes to rail.

Adapted from The Conversation; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Why it matters: Transportation has overtaken power generation as the largest source of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Andreas Hoffrichter, writing in The Conversation, says the "quickest way" to cut those emissions is more travel and goods movement by rail.

By the numbers: The chart above shows rail's emissions edge. In 2016, rail accounted for 32% of U.S. freight movement but 6% of greenhouse gas emissions from moving goods around and has far lower energy usage.

Where it stands: Hoffrichter's piece makes the case for more passenger travel and freight movement by rail, but notes it will require government investment, especially on the passenger rail side.

  • He also sees several pathways for making railways less carbon-intensive via improvements to diesel engine technology, use of natural gas, more battery systems deployment on relatively short routes and more.

Go deeper: How to cut CO2 from heavy trucking