Saturday, September 19, 2009

Comparing Apples to Oranges!

Here we go again!

Every time Norfolk Southern runs a flight of advertising touting locomotive fuel efficiency, the “how come a locomotive gets 400 miles per gallon when my beater only gets 9 miles per gallon?” questions begin anew.

A locomotive does not get 400 miles per gallon. That's an example of comparing "apples (ton miles per gallon,) to oranges, (miles per gallon.")

Years ago, Mr. David P. Morgan, distinguished editor of “Trains Magazine” wrote an editorial entitled “16 of ‘em in a block.” In that photo editorial featuring a two page spread black and white photo of a GM V16-567C motor, he went on to explain the fuel efficiency of that diesel engine.

During one of my infamous “clean the apartment” fits, boxes of “Trains” magazines went to the dump. Some time ago, I begged a marketing fellow in Chicago to find that editorial, written in the late 1950’s for me. I never got my hands on it. Too bad, because DPM wrote very succinctly about the fuel efficiency of that V-16.

To get a handle on how much fuel a diesel locomotive consumes, click on this link for some down to earth data!

On the other hand, in comparing "apples to apples," J.B. Hunt Transportation in a presentation to shippers, cited these numbers: “While trains can average 436 ton miles per gallon, a truck will average 100 to 130 ton miles per gallon.”

J.B. Hunt [5816K]

While we can clearly see that transporting cargo by train is much more fuel efficient, even more important is the measure of carbon emissions, in view of our increased sensitivity toward global warming.

To address that issue, the American Association of Railroads provides a carbon emissions calculator, fun to play with, yet a serious tool for identifying the output of carbon emission contribution into the atmosphere from a locomotive as compared to a truck.

Back to Norfolk Southern’s TV advertising copy. To call it “advertising slight of hand” would be disingenuous, the hypothesis probably being that the audience understands the difference between “miles-per-gallon” and “ton-miles-per-gallon.”

And while we can readily demonstrate that a train is more efficient than a truck for hauling freight, adding inland barge transportation opens up an entirely different playing field!

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