Plane, Train, and Ship Fuel Efficiency

Published Sep 30, 2013 Updated Aug 4, 2015

The fuel efficiency of planes can be improved.
Photo: Wanderlinse

Planes, trains, and ships account for 15 percent of total transportation-related oil consumption in the United States.

Planes are the thirstiest of the bunch, guzzling well over one million barrels of oil per day. This number will likely increase, as projections suggest US air travel demand will continue growing.

Trains and ships rely on oil as well, together accounting for almost a million barrels per day. Reducing the harmful effects of these important transportation modes is a major aim of Half the Oil, our plan to cut projected U.S. oil use in half over 20 years.

Trains have a role in reducing oil use.
Photo: Flickr user Magharebia

Available, capable technologies

Existing technologies can help improve the fuel efficiency of our planes, trains, and ships. For aircraft, available technologies include lighter weight materials and more fuel efficient engines.

Trains and ships, powered by diesel engines, can take advantage of engine improvements similar to those being used in heavy-duty trucks, and can also reduce engine idling.

Further gains are available by restructuring how, when, and where we use non-highway transportation modes. Improvements aimed at maximizing loads, such as stacking two shipping containers on a rail car instead of one, can reduce oil use in trains and ships, as can optimizing routes. Better routing, scheduling, and an update of the hub-and-spoke network, which relies on indirect stopovers and therefore increases fuel use, can save oil in aircrafts.

Moreover, high-speed electric rail can offer an effective alternative to short-distance air travel in certain U.S. areas, significantly reducing oil consumption.

Fleet operators can save money and reduce harmful emissions today by implementing many of these strategies. Future progress, and future savings, can be realized if we invest in policies that drive technology advancements.

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