sparc77 asked in Cars & TransportationRail · 8 years ago

How can a train haul 1 ton of freight 500 miles on 1 gallon of diesel?

There is a commercial on TV by a local railroad that claims to be able to move 1 ton of freight 500 miles on 1 gallon of diesel. I realize that they are looking at that one ton of freight as a portion of the entire load of the train and how much fuel it takes to move the whole train 500 miles, but does anyone know what the math was?

How many cars on a typical train?

What is the weight load of a typical car?

What is the mileage (miles per gallon) of a locomotive?

What is the fuel capacity and range of a locomotive?

I am trying to recreate the math that was used to make this claim.


Thanks for all the helpful info folks. I'll leave the question open so that others may chime in.

Oh and BTW, I saw the commercial again. It is CSX making the claim.

11 Answers

  • ?
    Lv 7
    8 years ago
    Favorite Answer

    They're playing tricks with the math... No train in the world really moves just one ton of cargo 500 miles. The train actually moves several thousand tons of freight, and it takes much more than 1 gallon of diesel fuel to do it. Each engine on a modern diesel freight train can carry more than 5000 gallons of diesel fuel, and there are usually 4-8 diesel engines to a 100 car train.

    Of course, fuel consumption depends on the total weight of the train, and the kind of terrain that the train is traveling over, but the average distance between fuel stops is 750-1000 miles.

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  • Andy
    Lv 7
    8 years ago

    Well I think they are stretching the truth a bit.The average train is about 5,000 tons.Our load limit on a single car is 143 tons but the average is about 60 - 80 tons.Locomotives don't use a miles per gallon figure.They use gallons per hour burned.A typical modern freight locomotive burn 200 gallons an hour at full throttle.They have tanks that hold almost 5000 gallons and are refueled about every 500 -700 miles(they aren't out of fuel but they refill them anyways).Most of that is getting a train started and up to speed.Once they are cruising say at throttle notch 4 they burn about 100 gallons per hour.I'm fixing to get called on a train that is 121 cars(an intermodal container train) that weighs 6,700 tons and is currently using 3 out of 6 locomotives as power.My run is 230 miles and it will probably burn about 1500 gallons of fuel(for all 3 engines) for that distance.But that is mostly uphill.You could run the same train the other direction on about 800 gallons.So as you can probably tell their 500 miles figure is a bit of a stretch.They are saying that based on level track under optimum conditions.Any grade or wind would shoot that figure right down.I would guess that a more realistic figure would be between 300 -400 miles.

    Source(s): UPRR engineer
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  • 3 years ago

    Diesel Freight Trains

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  • Anonymous
    8 years ago

    Obviously that is a best case scenario, not typical but not impossible by any means.

    However in the "real world" a freight train uses less than 1/4 the fuel of a semi truck to move freight. There is almost no friction between steel wheels and steel rails, and there is only a fraction of the wind resistance because the entire train goes through the same "hole" instead of each car like a truck does.

    Here is an example, today I was on a 18,000 ton 115 car coal train and we had four 4,000 HP locomotives for .8 horsepower per ton of train, yes that's right less than one horsepower per ton.

    That would be like putting a lawnmower engine in a full size pickup.

    We used roughly 2,500 gallons of fuel to go 260 miles, that is over hilly terrain, a train traveling on more level ground would be more fuel efficient.

    I'm no mathematician but that is pretty good fuel consumption for a heavy train.

    Source(s): RR engineer
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  • 8 years ago

    Typical train???? Where?

    Trains of a hundred cars or more are normal

    100,000 pounds on a typical car

    Mileage not pulling anything? Lots better than your car.

    Fuel capacity 6000 gallons and up depends on the locomotive.

    RANGE depends on what it is pulling.

    The questions you ask will not help you recreate the math.

    The ad is using an approximation of if you added 1 ton to a train you would need one extra gallon of diesel to move it 500 miles. Train tracks and train wheels have little friction .

    A human can push a moving box car. It is hard to get it started but once moving you can push it by hand. It rolls very well on level ground.Try pushing a truck trailer for comparison.

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  • Anonymous
    8 years ago

    Andy has a good real world answer as well as the others

    strangely; if there was NO FRICTION ( but there always is) it would take NO fuel at all to move on level ground from place to place

    the moon in space just keeps going around the earth

    we need fuel to gain speed since there is kinetic energy of motion

    once moving it only takes the energy to move a distance against the force of (all) friction

    boats and trains have very low friction. cars and airplanes have high friction or air drag

    walking is low friction but running is difficult

    bicycles are very low friction

    so Yes their claim is possible but may be "best case"

    Source(s): surprised?
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  • 8 years ago

    A train unlike a truck has very little friction when it rolls, therefore it takes very little energy to keep it moving. Also weight on a train means very little. They are designed to carry thousands of tons of goods. To get an idea on this, the semi truck can only carry 1 small coil of steel due to weight, but the train car can carry up to 5 large rolls on 1 car! The modern tracks and track bed are designed to support massive amounts of weight. Now on the downside, it takes a loaded train a long to stop from full speed due to all that weight.

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  • 8 years ago

    Bottom line, shipping by rail is very economic.

    But, numbers can be skewed very easily, put through normal mathematics operations.

    Premise: "Human beings have eleven digits on their hands, not ten."

    Proof: Hold up one hand and counting backwards from ten, you will have arrived at the number 6 when running out of fingers. On the other hand, count from 1. When you run out of fingers, you are at 5. So, taken together, 6 plus 5 equals 11.

    But it gets better.

    Suppose there is a small town. In that town, there is an inn keeper running the hotel. A customer comes in and wants a room, if the accommodations are acceptable. In good faith, he lays a $100 on the counter in the lobby and heads upstairs to look at the rooms.

    The inn keeper acts quickly, and runs to the butcher to pay off his debt for the goods he uses to run the restaurant with the $100. The butcher runs to the feed lot to pay off his debt there for the goods necessary to raise the beef. It turns out, the guy running the feed lot is fond of prostitutes and with the $100 retains the service of lady of ill repute. When she gets the $100 for services rendered, she runs right over to the hotel to pay off her $100 owed for use of a room the night before.

    Just then the prospective overnight guest returns to the counter, says the accommodations are not up to snuff, so he picks up his $100 off of the counter and leaves.

    That is how modern economics works. All ya gotta do is arrange the numbers however you want.

    So, what good is an MBA? A hogger figured it out with only one full semester of college... Liberal Arts at that...

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  • 8 years ago

    If you were to take the equivalent of a fully loaded train and transfer it to tractor trailers, and haul it the most economical route by truck, The combined fuel consumed by those trucks would be much much higher than the train.

    Trains are great for hauling long distances, short distances are better done by truck.

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  • 4 years ago

    So if it took 5,000 tons in 1 trip, it would burn 5,000 gallons of fuel to go the 500 miles. That's 10 gallons per mile. If it took 25,000 tons, it would burn 25,000 gallons of fuel. That's 50 gallons per mile.

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