Fuel Efficiency Math

A number of months ago, I wrote a blog post that analyzed the fuel efficiency claims of CSX, which was expressed in ton-miles per gallon. While doing some other efficiency work, I stumbled upon a web site that nicely summarized the efficiencies of a number of transportation modes. Here is a table that summarizes that data by transportation mode.

Table 1: Fuel Efficiency of Various Transportation Modes.
Transportation Mode Ton-Miles per Gallon of fuel
Semi-Trailer Trucks (half loaded) 90.5
Semi-Trailer Trucks (fully loaded) 186.6
Grain Trains (Iowa to West Coast) 437.0
Grain Trains (Iowa to New Orleans) 640.1
Barge (Iowa to New Orleans and return with 35% load) 544.5
Barge (Upper Mississippi Southbound) 953.0
Barge (Upper Mississippi Northbound with 37% load) 243.0
Small Ocean-Going Ship (>30K tons Deadweight) 574.84
Large Ocean-Going Ship (>100K tons Deadweight) 1043.4

Here is what I take from this data:

  • Full loads are much more efficient than partial loads.

    I have read that one of the ways that Walmart achieves such remarkable distribution efficiency is by making sure that every load is full. This makes sense.

  • Going downstream is easier than upstream.

    This also makes a lot of sense.

  • If you are going to ship freight on the ocean, use a large ship.

    The efficiency of large ships explains the large increase in the number of enormous container vessels over the years.

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4 Responses to Fuel Efficiency Math

  1. akismet-5a3f6666545b653fecda53c66f863fbe says:

    I'm puzzled why half-loaded trucks are more efficient than fully loaded. Is that a typo?

  2. Thank you for all of your post!
    I'll be using this in class next week (9th graders) to reflect on decision-making with mathematics. A great, relevant, and quick way to introduce the topic.

    • mathscinotes says:

      I love it when teachers use the posts. If there is a topic that you think would be interesting to cover here, drop me a note. Generally, I just grab stuff that I am working on.



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