Environmental Impact


Rail is the most environmentally-friendly way to move freight over land.


  • Railroads account for roughly 40% of U.S. long- distance freight volume but only 1.9% 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.
  • Freight railroads are, on average, 3 to 4 times more fuel efficient than trucks, and a ton of freight moving by rail instead of truck reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 75%.**


Operation Clean Sweep


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 continues to pursue a number of environmentally friendly initiatives.


Steps Taken to Further Reduce the Environmental Footprint of Rail Transportation

  • Fuel-Efficient Locomotives: Retrofitting older locomotives and acquiring new locomotives that emit fewer criteria pollutants and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
  • 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 Technology: Using idling-reduction technologies, such as stop-start systems that shut down a locomotive when it is not in use and restart it as needed and auxiliary power units to heat locomotive water and oil and charge batteries without idling the engine.
  • Distributed Power: Expanding use of distributed power (positioning locomotives throughout the train) to reduce the total horsepower required for train movements.
  • General Operations: Making environmentally friendly changes throughout the workplace, including installing solar panels on office buildings and replacing company work vehicles with hybrid or electric versions.
  • Employee Training: Training employees and contractors to help locomotive engineers and other personnel develop and implement best practices and improve awareness of fuel-efficient operations.
  • Research: Spearheading and participating in testing and research of zero-emission locomotives and other technologies, alternative fuel use and more.


Click the green button below to learn more about how ASLRRA members are further pursuing sustainability and environmentally friendly operations.

Short Line Examples of Environmental Initiatives


ASLRRA's Environmental Advocacy

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. To support members' efforts to further reduce the environmental impact of freight rail transportation, the Association has established the annual Environmental Award, bestowed on a member that has designed and enacted innovated and successful environmental initiatives, reduced the company's environmental impact and contributed to meeting sustainability goals for the railroad and the shipper.

ASLRRA also supports federal environmental programs like those described below, and encourages its members to participate in them as well.


ASLRRA became an affiliate member of the EPA’s SmartWay program in 2020. SmartWay helps shippers determine how best to meet ESG goals using transportation modes.

Railroads’ participation in SmartWay will ensure that shippers understand how shipping by rail can help customers meet their company’s environmental goals.

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.

Operation Clean Sweep

ASLRRA has become a supporter of Operation Clean Sweep (OCS), a campaign to reduce plastic resin loss to the environment. As a supporter, ASLRRA helps communicate to its members the importance of the program’s efforts. 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.


ASLRRA’s On-Demand Environmental Webinars

The Association has produced several webinars on environmental topics and all recordings are available at any time to members. Follow this link and log in to view the full list of on-demand environmental webinars.


*According to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Reporting

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