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U.S. Department of Transportation U.S. Department of Transportation Icon United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation

Rail Energy, Efficiency, and Sustainability

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Volpe provides informed guidance to the rail industry on cost-effective and energy-efficient advanced technology options. This guidance has promoted operational best practices to lessen fuel consumption, promote sustainable transportation, and reduce the environmental footprint of rail operations.

The Challenge

The high cost of fuel affects railroad economic competitiveness and operational efficiency, and the release of carbon and other harmful emissions has caustic environmental effects. In response to these and other issues, the National Rail Plan and the Whitehouse Blueprint for a Secure Energy Future call for reducing emissions and fuel consumption, and expanding the use of renewable energy and fuels.

Addressing these critical issues requires identifying technologies, advancing sustainable practices, and examining alternative approaches for improving energy efficiency and reducing fuel consumption in the rail industry.

The Solution

Volpe conducted a comprehensive literature review and evaluation of rail systems with energy-efficient advanced technologies. Staff scientists examined technology such as rail equipment, infrastructure, navigation, positive train control, alternative fuels, and operational efficiency modeling and scheduling tools.

After identifying the technologies and existing standards and guidelines applicable to system-wide energy efficiency in the U.S., Volpe created a guidance document of opportunities for greater energy efficiency in passenger and freight rail.

The Impact

Volpe’s research and data-based recommendations to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) on rail energy efficiency help do the following:

  • Support energy efficiency and the sustainability goals outlined in FRA’s National Rail Plan
  • Further the FRA Rail Energy, Environment, and Engine research program objectives
  • Move the rail industry forward in achieving fuel savings, increasing environmental sustainability, and reducing the environmental footprint of rail


Freight cars lined up on a railroad track.

Federal Railroad Administration