The Freight Debate

By Freddie Pierce
Staff contributor: Heather Rushworth Click here to read this article in the magazine edition! In todays convenience based marketplace, where conserving...

Staff contributor: Heather Rushworth

Click here to read this article in the magazine edition!

In today’s convenience based marketplace, where conserving energy, time and resources is vital in building the most efficient supply chain, logistics specialists everywhere must carefully weigh out their delivery method options. Which leads to a simple question, but one rarely discussed in length: what mode is truly the superior system in transporting freight, trains or trucks?

Structurally, a number of elementary design factors contribute to the superior energy efficiency of the train over the truck. For one, a train’s steel wheels smoothly join with the steel of the railway, and thus omit very little kinetic friction. In opposition, a truck’s thick rubber tires emit heavy static friction when interfacing with asphalt, forcing the engine to consume more fuel to maintain momentum. Also, the slower speed of trains, while ultimately extending the overall delivery time of freight, actually greatly improves fuel consumption, as it cuts down on the aerodynamic drag caused by moving heavy masses at fast speeds. 

So ultimately, a train has less aerodynamic drag than a truck, making it more fuel efficient, as the engine does not strain to overcompensate for its loss of energy to inertia. While the difference between fuel costs does not differ wildly in short distance trips between the train and the truck, the energy efficient train does pay off in medium to long distant routes.

However, in today’s fast- paced marketplace, where time is money, companies may find a train’s lag in delivery time burdensome. And it isn’t just the train’s slower speed that delays the chain of supply, but also the logistics of loading and unloading freight onto the train. Ultimately, a truck’s effortless accessibility is less of a hassle to load and unload. And with cargo requiring a quick turnaround like fresh produce, time delays can significantly cut profit margins. Also, obviously, trucks are not restricted to the infrastructure of a railway, which makes them the optimally flexible option when it comes to comprehensive delivery.

Perhaps the truth lies not in Trucks vs. Train, but rather, how we can bridge these two sectors together into one powerhouse network. If the future of industry is one of customizable options, then the key to the most efficient delivery method comes in synchronizing the benefits of the two, focusing on how these two equally valuable, but ultimately unique systems of delivery can be interfaced in the most efficient way.


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