Environmental Impact

Short lines are proud to be part of the U.S. freight rail network – the most environmentally-friendly way to move freight over land.

Railroads account for roughly 40% of U.S. long- distance freight volume but account for just 2.1% of transportation-related emissions.* If 10% of the freight shipped today by the largest trucks were moved by rail, greenhouse gas emissions would fall more than 17 million tons annually or the equivalent of removing 3.35 million cars from the road. A ton of freight moving by rail instead of truck reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 75%.**

As an example, the Lancaster & Chester Railroad ships 281,500 tons of soybeans, soy meal and soybean oil a year between the South Carolina cities of Chester, Fort Lawn and Kershaw. That move uses an average of 80,000 gallons of fuel per year. A comparable truck move would use over 320,000 gallons of fuel, and add to the congestion around cities, and wear and tear on highways and rural roads that taxpayers must pay for. This impact is multiplied thousands of times each day across the United States.

The Pacific Harbor Line Railroad moves 5,000 tons of interchange traffic daily from Wilmington to Long Beach, CA. That move uses an average of 36,500 gallons of fuel per year. A comparable truck move would use 521,220 gallons of fuel.

R.J. Corman’s Memphis Line (RJCM) and Central Kentucky Lines (RJCC) have streamlined rail service for customers Novelis and Logan Aluminum, enabling easy shipping for their aluminum products. RJCM and RJCC provide direct rail service between the companies, and intra-plant switching services at product origin and destination. Altogether, R.J. Corman is able to offer Novelis and Logan Aluminum quality service while moving the equivalent of 29,900 truckloads annually. This results in an approximately 14,784-ton reduction in greenhouse gas emissions each year.

Already the leader in fuel-efficient surface transportation, the railroad industry is now making every effort to be a part of the solution to improving the environment, and the short line industry is all in on a variety of fronts.

Read ASLRRA’s November 19, 2021 letter to Secretary of Transportation Buttigieg, expressing support of the Administration’s Climate Action Plan.

EPA Stats

Improving the Environmental Impact through Asset Upgrades, Technology and Behavior

Short lines are already efficient in the movement of freight from a fossil fuel-use standpoint. ASLRRA has joined the freight rail industry in supporting initiatives that further the reduction in environmental impact in a number of ways.

The rail industry is actively reducing its environmental impact through support of regulations such as the recent Federal Railroad Administration’s January 15, 2021, notice of proposed rulemaking to revise 49 C.F.R. Part 232 to address the use of electronic air brake slips (“eABS”) to track mechanical inspections and freight car mileage, which reduced the amount of time engines must spend idling during brake checks.

Short line railroads are reducing their environmental footprint via operational practices including:

  • upgrading track which makes movement more efficient,
  • retro-fitting or replacing locomotives to improve emissions,
  • making changes in behavior of employees, and processes, and
  • adopting new technology that will further reduce its environmental impact.

Click the green button below to learn more about what ASLRRA members are doing on their railroads.

Short Line Examples of Environmental Initiatives

ASLRRA advocates on behalf of the short line industry with regulating bodies and the U.S. Congress, ensuring that they understand our positive environmental footprint and the impact of rules and legislation on the industry.


Steps Taken to Further Reduce the Environmental Footprint of Rail Transportation:**

  • Fuel-efficient Locomotives: Acquiring and retrofitting thousands of new, more fuel-efficient locomotives that emit fewer criteria pollutants and GHGs over the past decade.
  • Operational Improvements: Carrying an average of 3,667 tons of freight per train in 2019, up 25% since 2000. By carrying more freight, railroads reduce unnecessary train and railcar movements, reducing fuel use.
  • Aerodynamics & Lubrication: Adopting operational fixes to reduce fuel use. For example, advances in lubrication techniques reduce friction, ultimately decreasing drag and saving fuel.
  • Anti-idling Tech: Installing idling-reduction technologies, such as stop-start systems that shut down a locomotive when it is not in use and restart it as needed.
  • Distributed Power: Expanding use of distributed power (positioning locomotives throughout the train) to reduce the total horsepower required for train movements.
  • Training: Training employees and contractors to help locomotive engineers and other personnel develop and implement best practices and improve awareness of fuel-efficient operations.



Railroad and supplier members of ASLRRA are encouraged to join the SmartWay program! Click for details on the benefits of participating and how to build your profile. Membership is FREE.


ASLRRA became an affiliate member of EPA’s SmartWay program in 2020. SmartWay helps companies advance supply-chain sustainability by measuring, benchmarking, and improving freight transportation efficiency. It offers tools short lines can use to communicate how shipping by rail can help customers meet their company’s environmental goals. Reducing a company’s carbon footprint is a growing imperative but isn’t easy - we believe that shippers will move from truck to more fuel-efficient rail if we can adequately demonstrate our real contribution to that goal. Unilever and Home Depot are but two high profile examples of major shippers that are now publicly talking about the environmental benefits of using rail.

Both railroad and supplier members of ASLRRA can participate in the SmartWay program.

Operation Clean Sweep

ASLRRA has become a supporter of Operation Clean Sweep (OCS), a campaign by the Plastics Industry Association and the American Chemistry Council to reduce plastic resin loss to the environment.

As a supporter, ASLRRA helps communicate to its members the importance of the program’s efforts to reduce the accidental loss of pellets, flakes and powder from plastic processing facilities into the environment.

The OCS website includes a manual with guidelines to help those in the plastics industry reduce the accidental release of plastics from the processing facility into the environment. Companies eligible to participate in the OCS program can take a pledge to prevent plastic resin loss, part of the process in becoming an OCS member.



Benefits of Freight Rail – Capacity, Safety & Clean Air!

Join SmartWay and the ASLRRA to learn a fresh perspective on transporting freight. Presented by Peter Gilbertson, President and Chief Executive Officer Anacostia Rail Holdings Company; Jo Strang, Senior Vice President, Safety, Regulatory, and Environmental Policy, ASLRRA; Kathleen Martz, Affiliate Program Manager; Justin Broyles, Vice President Commercial Development, RJ Corman Railroad Group; Mike Peters, Chief Commercial Officer North America, Genesee and Wyoming; Martin Pohlod, Senior Vice President Corporate Commercial, Genesee and Wyoming; and Chuck Baker, President, ASLRRA.

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ASLRRA and SmartWay: Introduction and Opportunities

Listen to key representatives from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's SmartWay program and the ASLRRA for an introductory presentation about both organizations and a discussion about opportunities for collaboration. Presented by Kathleen Martz, Affiliate Program Manager, U.S. EPA/SmartWay & Supply Chain Programs Center; Erik Herzog, Benefits Analyst and Rail Tool Lead, U.S. EPA/SmartWay & Supply Chain Programs Center; and Jo Strang, Senior Vice President, Safety, Regulatory, and Environmental Policy, ASLRRA.

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Benefits of Using Rail from a Shipper & Logistics Perspective

Join ASLRRA and SmartWay for a discussion about how and why shippers use rail in moving freight, featuring representatives from SmartWay partners BASF and Celtic Logistics. Presented by Kathleen Martz, Affiliate Program Manager, EPA SmartWay; Erik Herzog, Environmental Scientist & Rail Lead, EPA SmartWay; Michael Vogt, Director, Logistics Procurement-North America, BASF Corporation; Paul Johnson, Vice President, Pricing, Celtic International LLC; Chuck Baker, President, ASLRRA; and Jo Strang, Senior Vice President, Safety, Regulatory, and Environmental Policy, ASLRRA.

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A Case Study in Joining EPA's SmartWay Program

Join us for a case study to learn how to apply the SmartWay tool to your railroad, what locomotives are included, and which are not. Hear directly from Patriot Rail’s Harrison Roughton about his experience in joining the EPA SmartWay program.

Presented by Erik Herzog, Rail, Barge and Air Programs Lead and SmartWay Emissions Benefits Analyst, US EPA SmartWay and Supply Chain Programs Center; Harrison Roughton, AVP Safety, Regulatory & Sustainability, Patriot Rail Company; and Herman Crosson, Chief Safety and Compliance Officer, Anacostia Rail Holdings Company

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Freight Emissions, Carbon Accounting and Sustainability

As more and more shippers look at the climate and other environmental impacts of transportation emissions in their supply chains, they are reaching out to collaborate with their truck, intermodal and rail partners for assistance with their sustainability planning and goals. In this webinar, EPA’s SmartWay program will give an overview of the accounting tools and metrics it provides freight carriers, including railroads to measure and track their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. SmartWay’s metrics and reports are used and accepted by several leading climate reporting platforms, including the World Resources Institute’s GHG protocol, CDP, and the Global Logistics Council. Railroads can use these tools to help support and develop their sustainability plans, as well as the plans of their shipper partners, suppliers, and other stakeholders. Join this webinar to learn more about these and other benefits that SmartWay offers.

Presented by Kathleen Martz, National Regions and Affiliate Program Manager, and Erik Herzog, Rail, Barge and Air Programs Lead and SmartWay Emissions Benefits Analyst, U.S. EPA SmartWay and Supply Chain Programs Center

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*According to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Reporting

**Association of American Railroads (AAR) Freight Railroads & Climate Change Report, March 2021