Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

For Midwesterners, more boxcars mean cleaner air

Date:
December 9, 2011
Source:
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Summary:
Shifting a fraction of truck-borne freight onto trains would have an outsized impact on air quality in the Midwest, according to researchers.

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 Wisconsin-Madison.

Much of that impact boils down to simple efficiency, according to Erica Bickford, a graduate student in UW-Madison'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 presented December 8 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 -- a tradeoff is unbalanced in favor of more densely populated areas.

"Black carbon and NO2 are harmful to everyone's health," Bickford says. "But because more people live near roads than railroad tracks, more people would benefit from the shifts in these pollutants."

As much as 16 percent less black carbon soot would linger near roads with heavy shipping traffic, according to Bickford's model, while the increase around rail corridors would be as high as 20 percent. Nitrogen dioxide would plummet by as much as 30 percent near roads, but rise by as much as 20 percent near railroad tracks.

Holloway's research group is already working on further modeling to explore connected changes in the number of asthma and heart disease cases.

The effects of greater rail use would be particularly noticeable in the middle of the country, according to Bickford.

"We're sort of a freight crossroads in the Midwest," says Bickford, whose work was funded by the National Center for Freight and Infrastructure Research and Education at UW-Madison. "International shipping comes into the country on the coasts and then passes through our backyard on the way to its destination."

The study limited hypothetical changes in shipping to trips of more than 400 miles to ensure a cost savings for shippers, and to cargo -- such as automobiles and non-perishable food -- that could handle the slower trip in railcars. The 500 million tons Bickford selected for travel by rail represent about 5 percent of U.S. truck freight by weight.

"These aren't pie-in-the-sky figures," Holloway says. "They are reasonable and achievable."

And they come with non-pollution benefits, like reduced traffic congestion, wear on roads and demand for diesel fuel.

"Truck freight travels on publicly-funded roads, rail traffic on privately-built tracks," Bickford says. "But these benefits could be an impetus for public investment in rail infrastructure."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Wisconsin-Madison. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University of Wisconsin-Madison. "For Midwesterners, more boxcars mean cleaner air." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 9 December 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/12/111208173716.htm>.
University of Wisconsin-Madison. (2011, December 9). For Midwesterners, more boxcars mean cleaner air. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 14, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/12/111208173716.htm
University of Wisconsin-Madison. "For Midwesterners, more boxcars mean cleaner air." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/12/111208173716.htm (accessed September 14, 2014).

Share This



More Earth & Climate News

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Conservationists Face Uphill PR Battle With New Shark Rules

Conservationists Face Uphill PR Battle With New Shark Rules

Newsy (Sep. 14, 2014) — New conservation measures for shark fishing face an uphill PR battle in the fight to slow shark extinction. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Pakistan's 'killer Mountain' Fails to Draw Tourists After Attack

Pakistan's 'killer Mountain' Fails to Draw Tourists After Attack

AFP (Sep. 12, 2014) — In June 2013, 10 foreign mountaineers and their guide were murdered on Nanga Parbat, an iconic peak that stands at 8,126m tall in northern Pakisan. Duration: 02:34 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Solar Storm To Hit This Weekend, Scientists Not Worried

Solar Storm To Hit This Weekend, Scientists Not Worried

Newsy (Sep. 11, 2014) — Two solar flares which erupted in our direction this week will arrive this weekend. The resulting solar storm will be powerful but not dangerous. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
The Ozone Layer Is Recovering, But It's Not All Good News

The Ozone Layer Is Recovering, But It's Not All Good News

Newsy (Sep. 11, 2014) — The Ozone layer is recovering thickness! Hooray! But in helping its recovery, we may have also helped put more greenhouse gases out there. Hooray? Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

    Technology News



    Save/Print:
    Share:  

    Free Subscriptions


    Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

    Get Social & Mobile


    Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

    Have Feedback?


    Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
    Mobile iPhone Android Web
    Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
    Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
    Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins