Marine shipping: The sustainable mode of transportation

When comparing the different modes of transportation, ships can clearly carry one tonne of cargo much farther than any other mode of transportation on one litre of fuel.

Source : Quebec Marine Transportation Policy. Quebec at the Helm. The St. Lawrence.

Moreover, the Chamber of Marine Commerce, of which the Port of Montreal is a member, commissioned a study in collaboration with other partners to examine the environmental advantages of using marine shipping to transport goods. Here are some of the results.

Source : Environmental and Social Impacts of Marine Transport in the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway Region (January 2013)

  • The Seaway-size fleet operating within the St. Lawrence Seaway moves cargo with 24% more fuel efficiency than rail, and 531% more fuel efficiency than trucks.
  • The combined Great Lakes-Seaway fleet can move its cargo with 14% more fuel efficiency than rail and 594% more efficiency than trucks.

In terms of incremental greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions:

  • Compared to the Seaway-size fleet carrying one tonne of cargo for one kilometre, rail would produce 22% more GHG emissions, and the truck mode would produce 450% higher GHG emissions.
  • Compared to the combined Great Lakes-Seaway fleet carrying one tonne of cargo one kilometre, rail would emit 19% more GHG and the truck mode would produce 533% more GHG than marine transportation.

Although marine transportation emits fewer pollutants, it relies on its rail and trucking partners to complete the freight transportation supply chain. These partners are also working to reduce their environmental footprint.

Truck transportation

Truck and equipment design and trucking practices are being adapted to new environmental realities. For example, Robert Transport, a partner of the Port of Montreal, is taking measures to reduce its fuel consumption and its pollutant emissions. It has purchased trucks that run on liquefied natural gas (LNG), thereby reducing its diesel fuel consumption, and reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 25 to 29%.

Robert Transport is taking many other measures to reduce its environmental footprint:

  • Introduction of large truck trains (one truck pulling two trailers)
  • Reduction in vehicle speed limit to 100 km/h
  • Installation of aerodynamic skirts and deflectors on trucks
  • Installation of single wide tires
  • Reduction in idling time: truck engines are programmed to stop after idling for five minutes
  • Use of a generator rather than the engine to cool or heat the cab
  • Installation of cleaner engines
  • Training in energy efficiency while driving (ecodriving)

Combined, these measures have resulted in overall energy savings of 10% annually. Moreover, the company has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 11,000 tonnes annually. This would be equivalent to removing 2,800 cars from Quebec roads.

Meanwhile, the Quebec Transport Ministry’s Assistance Program for Improving Energy Efficiency, launched in 2009, includes a “road” component. Financial assistance is offered for the acquisition of on-board computers, technologies that reduce engine idling, aerodynamics-enhancing equipment, technology that improves the energy efficiency of a vehicle, alteration or replacement of technology that improves energy efficiency, including the conversion of a vehicle to hybrid technology, and alteration or replacement of technology to use alternative fuels.

The program responded to more than 2,400 requests for assistance; the approved projects represented a reduction of 90 tonnes of GHG emissions.

Also, GHG emissions for model-year 2018 trucks and other heavy-duty vehicles will be reduced by up to 23% compared to models currently on the market following regulations announced recently by the federal government. The regulations align with those adopted in the United States last year. The new regulations will establish progressively more stringent standards beginning in 2014.

Rail transport

In the rail transport sector, CN continues to acquire new locomotives that are up to 20% more fuel efficient than the ones they replace and produce 40% less nitrogen oxides. The railway company is currently investing more than $1 million in research into next-generation locomotives and alternative fuels.

CP is also very active on the environmental front. In 2009 its GHG emissions were 9.5% below 1990 levels despite an 18% increase in revenue ton-miles during the same period. Put another way, its GHG emissions per unit of revenue ton-miles decreased by 26% between 1990 and 2009.

According to the Railway Association of Canada, Canadian railways have invested more than $2.5 billion – or 20% of their operating revenues – in their own infrastructure and have acquired new locomotives that meet Environmental Protection Agency standards.

Source : Railway Association of Canada: 2010 Locomotive Emissions Monitoring Program

Fuel consumption for freight traffic decreased by 2.9% in 2010. It was a 29% improvement over 1990.


Source : Railway Association of Canada: 2010 Locomotive Emissions Monitoring Program

As a percentage, the 2010 GHG emissions intensity for total freight was 2.9% below the level for 2009 and 29.0% below that for 1990.

To download the 2010 Locomotive Emissions Monitoring Program report.

And everyone is getting involved!

According to a report issued on March 14 by the Alliance pour une économie verte au Québec (Alliance for a Green Economy in Quebec), a new alliance of businesspeople, financial experts, engineers and environmental groups:

  • Almost $522 billion was invested in 2011 in green economy development in China, the United States, Europe and elsewhere;
  • This amount could double or even triple by 2020;
  • 700,000 people work directly in the environmental sector in Canada, including 169,000 people in Quebec.