Picture of a train transporting grain. Photo by Marcus Wong via Wikimedia Commons

Train transporting grain, Photo by Marcus Wong via Wikimedia Commons

Why be energy efficient?

The rail freight transport sector operates in a very competitive business environment, so small improvements in fuel efficiency or changes in fuel costs can have a big impact on profit and competitiveness. Many energy efficiency measures also offer other benefits such as increased productivity and reduced maintenance costs.

Rail freight emits 75% less greenhouse gas emissions per tonne of freight moved compared to the road freight transport sector. Investing in energy efficiency further enhances rail transport’s competitiveness as economies transition to a low carbon future.1

The strategies outlined here offer significant potential to improve the fuel efficiency of rail transport, partly because the current fleet contains many locomotives in need of upgrade or replacement. The average age of diesel engines in Australia stands at over 36 years, compared to an average of eight years in the USA and 13.5 years in the UK.2


Two energy efficiency strategies cover most of the fuel efficiency opportunities available to the rail freight sector:

See all opportunities in Rail freight transport

Case studies

  • Innovation and employee education save fuel 2011 (Opens in a new window)

    Since 2000, Union Pacific has gained a 19% improvement in fuel efficiency. This has been achieved mainly through utilising fuel efficiency improvements, better locomotive technology, engineer training and employee involvement.

  • Transport Canada case studies 2008
    • Transport Canda

    This Transport Canada website includes a number of case studies from the ecoFREIGHT Program (operated from 1 April 2007 to 31 March 2011). The program worked with the freight transportation industry to facilitate greater uptake of technologies and practices that reduce fuel consumption, air contaminants and greenhouse gas emissions.

Key resources

Footnotes ~ Show 2 footnotes

  1. Association of American Railroads (2011) Freight Railroads Help Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions. AAR
  2. Australasian Railway Association (2010) A Greener Future: An Alternative Fuel Strategy for Rail. ARA. (Opens in a new window) PDF 632 KB