Moving freight by rail is the most environmentally friendly mode of ground transport, with the average U.S. railroad moving one ton of freight 470 miles per gallon of fuel. A new type of railcar aims to further improve the industry’s footprint.
The more sustainable, open-topped railcars — known as gondolas — use a high-strength, lighter-weight steel developed by U.S. Steel, Norfolk Southern and The Greenbrier Companies that reduces each railcar’s unloaded weight by up to 15,000 pounds. Gondolas transport loose bulk material such as metal scraps, coils, wood chips, steel slabs and ore.
Norfolk Southern will initially acquire 800 of the railcars. Chairman and chief executive officer James Squires called them “a real revolution."
“Not only will each gondola carry more material, they will do so by using less energy, making our operations, and our customer's operations, even more environmentally friendly," Squires said in a statement. Once the new gondolas are in service, Norfolk plans to recycle the previous models, he added.
Railcar rendering by The Greenbrier Companies.
More benefits include:
Extended lifecycle. The new steel is twice as strong as traditional steel used in the railcar manufacturing process, potentially extending the useful life of each gondola to 50 years. A stronger external finish also strengthens the railcar body, lowering maintenance costs.
Increased sustainability. The new gondola is more energy-efficient, both during production and in use. The steel fabrication process requires less time, leading to improved energy efficiency due to less material being used. The lower weight decreases the fuel needed by locomotives hauling the railcars, reducing energy usage and lowering emissions.
Greater freight capacity. Enhancements to the gondola design also afford greater freight capacity. The high-strength steel requires less structural reinforcement, simplifying the manufacturing process and allowing more total cargo space in each railcar.
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