National Study Updated: Compares Freight Transportation by Barge, Truck and Train

JOC Staff |
Arlington, VA – The National Waterways Foundation (NWF) has released an update of a 2007 study comparing selected societal, environmental, and safety impacts of utilizing inland river barge transportation to highway and rail transportation. Titled “A Modal Comparison of Freight Transportation Effects on the General Public,” the study was conducted by the Texas Transportation Institute’s Center for Port and Waterways at Texas A&M University.

The February 2012 update incorporates data through 2009, the most recent year for which complete data is available for all the modes. It:

  • Compares cargo capacity of trucks, trains and inland river barges. One standard 15-barge river tow has the same capacity as 1,050 trucks and 216 rail cars pulled by six locomotives. 2005 and 2009 data was the same for this category, which compared dry cargo and liquid cargo capacity.
  • Shows that barges can now move a ton of cargo 616 miles with a single gallon of fuel, while trains can travel 476 and trucks 150 ton-miles per gallon. This compares to 576 miles for barge, 413 miles for rail and 155 miles for truck according to 2005 data.
  • Determines that, after adjusting for the differences in quantity of cargo moved by each mode, for each member of the public injured in a barge accident, 95.3 are injured in rail accidents and 1,609.6 are injured in truck accidents. For fatalities, the rates are 132 trucking fatalities and 18.1 rail fatalities for every barge related fatality. This compares to 2005 data of injury rates of 125.2 in the rail sector and 2,171.5 in the highway sector, and for fatalities, 227 in the rail sector and 155 in the highway sector.
Both the rail and trucking industries have improved their injury and fatality rates since the previous study, but both are much higher than the inland waterway industry, which has also continued to improve, although not as dramatically as the other two modes primarily because of low historical rates.

  • Looks at the environmental impacts of the three modes and concludes that inland waterways transport generates fewer emissions of particulate matter, hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide and nitrous oxide than rail or truck on a per ton mile moved basis.
“We are very proud to release this updated study comparing rail, truck and inland waterways transport modes. While we operate in an intermodal network, the fact is that waterways transportation keeps America and its commerce on the move with fewer adverse societal impacts than truck or rail,” said Michael Hennessey, Chairman, National Waterways Foundation.

The mission of the National Waterways Foundation is to develop the intellectual and factual arguments for an efficient, well-funded and secure inland waterways system.

To see the report click or visit