Truck and rail interests feuding over findings of latest emissions study

by Canadian Shipper

With the smoke barely cleared since their last volley, the associations representing trucking and railway interests are at each other’s throats once again, this time over conflicting interpretations of a new Environment Canada report on emissions.

The Canadian Trucking Alliance recently issued a release to the media claiming that the study conducted for Environment Canada entitled Trucks and Air Emissions "adds to a growing body of scientific evidence that shows heavy trucks are now superior to railway locomotives in terms of environmental performance."

According to David Bradley, CEO of the Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA), "the study dispels many of the myths surrounding the negative impacts of trucks on the environment."

The CTA says the study shows that on a per unit basis, truck emission rates are lower than locomotive emission rates for some of the nastiest emissions notably particulate matter (PM) and nitrous oxides (NOx) in constant load tests.

"The study also makes clear that simple modal comparisons of the kind often espoused by railway advocates, are faulty because of the complexity of the transport chain," the CTA release states. It quotes from the study, whose author stated that "while rail has usually been found to be the most energy efficient or lowest emitter on single long-distance links, this type of route represents only a small portion of the total transport flow and the finding ignores the distribution issues at the rail end points."

But according to the Railway Association of Canada (RAC), the CTA has "misinterpreted, by accident or design", the study to suggest truck emissions rates are lower than locomotives.

“They have confused theoretical engine standards and actual performance results,” said Bill Rowat, RAC president and CEO. “The reality is that rail is more fuel efficient than truck because of lower rolling friction from steel wheel on steel rail. That is why rail is less polluting than truck. Trucks have other benefits for society, but this isn’t it.”

Rowat says the study shows that under laboratory conditions truck engines emit three times as much hydrocarbons as rail, 12 times as much carbon monoxide, one-half as much Nox and one-third as much per particulate matter per horsepower hour.

“Per tonne of freight per kilometer – which is the only appropriate comparable measure of workload, intercity truck requires more horsepower and uses five times as much fuel as rail. This makes trucks more polluting than rail for all the above emissions,” Rowat said.

“The most recent actual emissions data shows intercity truck generating 8.5 times as much volatile organic compounds, 10 times as much carbon monoxide, 3.2 times as much NOx emissions, and 10.6 times as much particulate matter as rail per tonne-kilometre.”

CTA also points to the study’s finding that since the 1970s, trucks have reduced their emissions by over 80%, decreased their fuel consumption rate by 50% and increased their payload efficiency by 300%.

"In the last 20 years alone, truck fuel efficiency has more than doubled. A truck can squeeze 2.3 times as many kilometres out of a litre of fuel in 2001 as it could in 1975," the CTA release states. "When it comes to introducing newer, more environmentally friendly vehicles into their fleets, Canadian trucking companies are at the forefront. Almost 50% of Canadian long-haul trucking fleets are made up of trucks less than four years old."

Another major factor driving the trucking industry’s environmental improvement is new diesel fuel and engine regulations that will see truck engine emissions of PM and NOx virtually disappear with the 2007 model year trucks.

Rowat questions those emission reduction figures.

"In fact, there is no data in the report to show change in actual emissions of the truck sector,” he says. “The 80 per cent figure is derived from the theoretical reduction of air pollutants from a new engine if targets had been met. But, during the past 10 years, several diesel engine makers installed devices that shut off pollution controls at highway speeds.”

Increased trucking activity has actually offset any benefit to society of cleaner truck engines,” Rowat claimed adding that although actual pollution data for trucks in Canada after 1995 is not yet available. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency data shows that between 1980 and 1999, heavy-duty road diesel emissions of NOx increased 47 per cent, CO increased 95 per cent, PM10 declined four per cent, PM2.5 declined 21 per cent, and VOC declined 26 per cent.

In addition, the study argues that reducing road congestion is a key strategy in reducing emissions. It suggests that an increase in current truck dimensions would reduce the number of trucks on the road and reduce emissions.

Rowat fires back that what the study didn’t examine is revealing

"It did not examine the option of road pricing for trucks to recover highway costs, reduce congestion or to reduce overuse caused by subsidies,” he said. “Neither did it examine the option of a more integrated transportation system using fuel- efficient rail for long-haul and flexible truck for pick up and delivery.”

For shippers that want to make up their own mind about these issues, the study is available on CTA’s website at (available in English and French).

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