Barge Transportation Provides Significant Advantages

Barge Transportation and inland waterways are extremely important to the U.S. distribution system. The U.S. inland waterway system is one of the busiest and most efficient transportation systems. These navigable waterways link the U.S. heartland to the world. Over 1.2 billion tons of cargo are moved annually on U.S. shallow-draft waterways. The economics of barge transportation are significant. Based on cost and safety, inland barge transportation is the most efficient means of transporting bulk commodities compared with rail and truck, as illustrated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers below. Sixteen percent of total domestic freight is moved by barge at only 2% of the freight bill cost. In real dollars, that’s a cost savings of $10.67 per ton of cargo shipped when compared to other modes.

barge transportation: the economic advantage

The environmental advantages are staggering. U.S. inland barge transportation has been proven to be the most energy-efficient and environmentally friendly method of moving bulk raw material compared with rail and trucks. One gallon of fuel can move one ton of bulk liquid products 514 miles by inland tank barge, compared with 202 miles by rail and 59 miles by truck. U.S. inland barge transportation emits 86% fewer hydrocarbons than trucks and 80% less than rail, 89% less carbon monoxide than trucks and 69% less than rail, and 95% fewer nitrous oxides than trucks and 71% less than rail. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Emission Control Laboratory determined the following:

barge transportation: the environmental advantage

Water transport consumes much less energy per ton-mile of freight carried than either rail or truck. This factor, combined with the remoteness of the vessel’s operating environment from population centers, substantially reduces the impact of its exhaust emissions. In urban areas, noise pollution becomes an additional factor. In terms of safety, it is easy to see that the cargo hauled by one barge would require 15 jumbo hopper cars or 58 large semis to haul, offering much less exposure to accident incidents. Additionally, truck and train traffic typically go through highly populated urban areas where incidents would have more effects on human life and property. The U.S. inland waterway system is vital to the national economy and the quality of life of U.S. citizens.

"Water transportation is inherently more energy-efficient and therefore a lot less polluting than truck traffic. Ten times the amount of energy is required to ship things overland as opposed to by barge. We can put 50 to 100 containers on a barge and therefore remove 50 to 100 trucks from the road. We did a preliminary study to look at what some of the environmental benefits might be in converting some of the truck traffic going into the Port of Houston into barge traffic going back and forth from the Port of Victoria and the Port of Houston. What we found was the emissions reductions would be substantial. We did a rough calculation of what the air pollutant savings would be for not having a truck drive between Victoria and Houston. The cost we came up with is somewhere between 20 and 50 dollars for every truck going between Victoria and Houston."

~ David Allen Director for Energy and Environmental Resources, University of Texas