America Needs Freight Trains Essay

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Our homes are filled with stuff. Some of it is essential, such as a stove and a toilet, but much of it is superfluous and properly classified as "wants" rather than "needs," such as wallpaper or DVD players. An inventory of the items found in our homes would undoubtedly produce a list of substantial length. Where did it all come from? A trip to the mall and we glean insight. But how does all this stuff get there? This is an important question for several reasons. In particular, a closer look at the means by which goods are transported reveals much about our economic, environmental and social commitments.

There are obviously many ways in which products make it to us. To get materials from overseas obviously requires ships or aircraft.
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A more holistic (i.e., inclusive) examination of the rail versus truck debate suggests that discounting the environmental and social costs has been and will continue to be a serious mistake.

Trains have many advantages over trucks for transporting materials across our nation. Some of these benefits are intuitive while others are much less obvious. And given the evidence that follows, we must consider seriously the current move to displace freight trains in favor of trucks.

First, there are monetary costs that must be fully appreciated. Costs, seemingly simple considerations that get convoluted very quickly, include many factors including fuel, congestion, maintenance, lives, and land-use. Estimates vary, yet on a ton-mile basis, trains are about three times more fuel-efficient; the ton-mile is a very useful unit because it represents work (force multiplied by distance, for all you physics gurus). That is, it takes trucks about three times more diesel fuel to get from one location to another; a recent study indicates that the actual number ranges from a factor 1.4 to 9, depending on "equipment types and terrain" (Lowe). And since a gallon of burned fuel results in nearly twenty pounds of carbon dioxide being emitted into the atmosphere, trucks are a much worse
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