Rail transport scenario
The history of rail transport goes all the way back to about 600 BC, when the early Greeks used wagonways to transport boats across the Isthmus of Corinth. Boats were loaded onto wheeled carriers that followed tracked grooves cut into a 3 and one-half mile limestone roadway. The power to move these loads was provided by both man and beast. This early wagonway cut hundreds of miles and many days of open sea faring off the trip between the Ionian and Aegean seas. This early “intermodal transport” supported critical trade between Greek ports.
Rail systems have been the backbone of economic infrastructure for developing countries through history. It is a direct, low friction pathway for heavy loads to be transported safely over great distances to different markets.
Rail technology has progressed significantly over the last 200 years, as the revolutionary steam locomotive has given way to ultra efficient diesel-electric locomotive engines. Even though The US has abandoned usage of 100,000 miles of railroads in the last century, there are still over 150,000 miles of active railroads, providing the main arteries for the flow of economic life.
Rail has been a proven economical method of transport for a very long time. A major US railroad advertises that they move 1 ton of freight 500 miles on 1 US gallon of Diesel. Mathematically, it is certainly feasible, and provides an excellent “bargain” for shipping large quantities of goods.
But even as efficient as rail transport may be, the U.S. Rail industry still consumes approximately 4 billion gallons of diesel fuel annually. That’s a lot of freight! That’s a lot of fuel!
That’s a lot of fuel that rail companies have to buy with very little control over the volatility and resultant price they have to pay for that diesel fuel. Fuel price volatility creates a potentially devastating impact to the bottom line of any large fuel consumer.
To make things even more challenging, new Federal Regulations are coming into effect that require exhaust emissions from locomotives to meet certain cleanliness standards, in order to protect people and the environment.