Heavy trucks outdistance locomotives in environmental performance, study finds

A new study from Environment Canada adds to scientific evidence that shows heavy trucks are superior to railway locomotives in terms of environmental performance.

This latest study, conducted for Environment Canada by Gordon Taylor and entitled Trucks and Air Emissions shows that on a per-unit basis, truck emission rates are lower than locomotive emission rates for some of the nastiest emissions — notably particulate matter and nitrous oxides — in constant load tests.

The study also says simple modal comparisons are faulty because of the transport chain's complexity. According to the study authors, “while rail has usually been found to be the most energy-efficient or lowest emitter on single long-distance links, this type of route represents only a small portion of the total transport flow, and the finding ignores the distribution issues at the rail end points.” Simple comparisons of truck and rail fuel efficiencies do not take into consideration such critical factors as the nature of the cargo, route direction, service speed, and shipment loss/damage.

Even so, the trucking industry takes a back seat to no one in terms of improved emission rates and fuel efficiency. The study found that since the 1970s, trucks have reduced their emissions by more than 80%, decreased their fuel consumption rate by 50%, and increased payload efficiency by 300%.

In the past 20 years alone, truck fuel efficiency has more than doubled. A truck can squeeze 2.3 times as many kilometers out of a liter of fuel in 2001 as it could in 1975.

When it comes to introducing newer, more environmentally friendly vehicles into fleets, Canadian trucking companies are at the forefront. Almost 50% of Canadian long-haul trucking fleets are made up of trucks less than four years old. Other companies that operate trucks — but whose principal business is not trucking — do not fare nearly as well. For example, 90% of the trucks used in the farming industry are at least 10 years old.

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