How Saving Fuel is Costing Jobs

05.07.08 | Money, Work | 2 Comments | by Fred Siegmund

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According to the Washington Post's "A Switch on the Tracks: Railroads Roar Ahead," rising fuel costs for 18-wheeled trucks has generated a rapid turnaround in rail traffic with freight rail tonnage and rail ton-miles surging ahead.

The article cites a 3 to 1 fuel advantage for rail over trucks, but the fuel advantage also means less environmental pollution in an eco-conscious society.

Using less fuel to transport a ton-mile of freight represents a physical savings of resources that potentially benefits many because fuel costs are reflected in grocery store prices and for just about everything else we buy at stores.

Savings that lower costs should always be good, but because even though a higher share of freight traffic could go on the rails, changing modes of transportation will affect jobs.

Trucks have been dominating freight traffic measured by value and tons. The latest commodity flow survey data published by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics and Federal Highway Administration compiles domestic freight shipments.

It shows that trucks haul 70 percent of freight measured by value and 60 percent of freight measured by tons.

Rail, on the other hand, has only 3 percent of freight measured by value and a little over 10 percent measure by tons. Truck traffic measured in value of shipments is bigger than rail by a ratio more than 20 to one. In tons of freight, trucks are bigger than rail by a ratio of 6 to 1.

Freight measured by ton-miles, or tons multiplied by miles, shows the relative advantage of rail as a bulk carrier. Trucks haul 34 percent of freight measure by ton-miles compared to 31 percent by rail. In ton-miles, trucks are about even with rail by a ratio barely above 1 to 1.

However, the ratio of tractor trailer and heavy truck driving jobs to locomotive engineering jobs tells a different story. Heavy and tractor trailer drivers have 1,860,000 jobs compared to 46,600 jobs as locomotive engineers and operators.

Heavy truck driving jobs outnumber rail engineer jobs almost 40 to 1. Those totals count only heavy and tractor trailer jobs. There are a million additional light and delivery service trucking jobs.

Efficiency sounds so much like something we should like, but saving energy and reducing air pollution by shifting to rail and away from trucks will eliminate thousands more jobs than it will create.

If America wants efficiency, we may need to think of some new ways to share their work.

Fred Siegmund covers America's jobs as part of work doing labor market analysis and projections for a client base of recruiters, trainers and counselors. Visit him at

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