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Railroads Report Greater Fuel Efficiency

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The amount of fuel needed to move a ton of freight on the U.S.'s largest railroads decreased by 12.5 percent from 2006 to 2012 and by more than 50 percent since 1980, according to a new report by the Energy Information Administration.

In 2012, Class I railroads used 2.1 gallons of diesel fuel to move 1,000 revenue ton-miles of freight compared with 2.4 gallons in 2006, 2.5 gallons in 2000, and 4.3 gallons of diesel fuel in 1980, according to the EIA. Revenue ton-miles are the product of the weight of paid tonnage times the total number of miles it has been transported.

The two Class I railroads that operate in West Virginia are CSX and Norfolk Southern.

Diesel fuel consumption by Class I railroads represented 12 percent of all diesel fuel demand in the transportation sector in the United States in 2012. Diesel fuel consumption in 2012 was higher than the low of 3.2 billion gallons used during the 2009 economic recession, but still 14 percent below the 2006 peak of 4.2 billion gallons and slightly below the 3.7 billion gallons consumed during 2011, according to the EIA. Improvements in the energy efficiency of moving freight account for most of the reduction in railroad fuel use between 2006 and 2012, the EIA report said.

The EIA said tonnage moved in 2012 was "significantly lower" than the 2006 peak, mainly because of reduced coal shipments. Coal accounted for more than 40 percent of tonnage moved by Class I railroads, and shipments of coal by rail made up more than 70 percent of coal delivered to power plants. Since 2008, the amount of coal moved by rail has declined, the EIA said.