A report was recently released which, to no one’s surprise, identified marine transportation to be a more fuel-efficient transportation mode than rail or truck. The report, Environmental and Social Impacts of Marine Transport in the Great Lakes – St. Lawrence Seaway Region, was commissioned and produced in collaboration with the Chamber of Marine Commerce, the Canadian Shipowners Association, The St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation and the Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation by Research and Traffic Group. A brief summary of the report is presented below:

The report analyzed a number of economic and social impacts associated with the three principal modes of transportation in and around the Great Lakes and Seaway areas. It made this analysis on the basis of transportation vehicles (marine, rail and truck) meeting actual regulations (2010), in comparison with fuel efficiency and emissions that will likely materialize in a “post-renewal” scenario, i.e. once Seaway vessels have been replaced with new generations of vessels or have been re-engined, once rail infrastructure has benefitted from updates to the locomotive fleet to 2016 emissions regulations and further operational improvements to aid efficiency, and once trucks have been replaced to meet the 2017 emissions standards.

In terms of fuel-efficiency, the report concluded that while based on current conditions, Seaway-sized carriers can move cargo 24 per cent further than rail, and 531 per cent further than truck on a given volume of fuel, in the “post-renewal” scenario, the fuel-saving advantage of marine is increased to 74 per cent more efficient than rail and 704 per cent more efficient than truck. Not surprisingly, as emissions of CO2 are closely related to fuel consumption, current and expected future greenhouse gas emissions follow a similar pattern.

Actual and projected levels of “critical air contaminants” that cause smog, acid rain and other health hazards show surprises and dramatic changes. Represented as grams emitted per thousand cargo tonne miles, nitrous oxide emissions are currently within 35 per cent for all three modes, with truck emissions being the highest. In the “post renewal” scenario, such emissions drop by about 85 per cent for all modes, with truck emissions ending up the lowest. As for emissions of sulphur dioxide, while on a current basis, marine emissions are 125 – 170 times as high as those emitted by rail and truck, on a “post renewal” basis, emissions are reduced dramatically, with marine emissions expected to be about 60 per cent less than rail emissions. Truck emissions are still expected to be the lowest of the group in this scenario. Similarly, while marine emissions of particulate matter are currently the highest, they are expected to drop dramatically in the “post renewal” scenario, to 2.9 grams per thousand cargo tonne miles, compared to 0.7 grams for rail and 3.6 grams for truck transportation.

The report also noted that marine transportation has no noticeable noise impact, and makes a considerable contribution to alleviation of road congestion. Furthermore, with 160 million tonnes of goods transported annually by water instead of by road and rail, billions of dollars of annual highway maintenance costs are avoided.