MADISON -- Shifting a fraction of truck-borne freight onto trains would have an outsized impact on air quality in the Midwest, according to researchers at the University of WisconsinMadison.
Much of that impact boils down to simple efficiency, according to Erica Bickford, a graduate student in UWMadison's Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies. For each ton they carry, long-distance trucks go about 150 miles on a gallon of diesel fuel. Trains can move a ton more than 400 miles per gallon.
Shifting from road to rail 500 million tons of the freight passing through or to the Midwest would make a large dent in the carbon dioxide spilled into the air by the movement of goods.
"There's a 31 percent decrease in carbon dioxide produced by freight shipping in the region, and that's straight from emissions," says Bickford, who made a model of freight traffic in 10 Midwestern states from Kansas to Ohio that she will present today in San Francisco at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union. "It's 21 million metric tons of CO2, the equivalent of what's produced by about 4 million cars."
But carbon dioxide mixes fairly evenly in the atmosphere, spreading its effects around the globe. Bickford's study accounts for weather patterns and the way particular pollutants are distributed to determine how long other products of diesel engines like black carbon soot and the ozone ingredient and lung irritant nitrogen dioxide (NO2) linger near their sources.
"The result is a much more thorough and local idea of the differences between truck and rail shipping," says Tracey Holloway, director of the Nelson Institute's Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment and Bickford's advisor. "If you're emitting CO2 in Indiana or India it has the same impact. But something like soot, that has local impact."
More rail traffic would mean more pollutants near the tracks, but relief near roads frequented by trucks
|Contact: Erica Bickford|
University of Wisconsin-Madison