Capacity Comparisons of Rail vs. Barge

Finding the most economical and efficient way to store and move things can be a lot work. Kind of like when you’re grocery shopping and you try to fit all of your goods into 3 or 4 bags so you only have to make one trip into the house, which I do. Every. Single. Time. Because let’s face it, fewer bags are easier to handle and it’s more convenient.

So what if bulk shippers could do the same thing with their products? They can! And they can do it with barges on the US Inland Waterways System. You may not know this, but rivers in America today help facilitate the movement of over 3.2 billion tons of commodities, both domestically and for import / export around the globe. Bulk freight logistics offers options beyond rail and truck.

A box barge on the river can hold approximately 1600 tons. One ton is equivalent to 2000 net pounds. So let’s do the math. 1600 x 2000 = 3.2 MILLION POUNDS PER BARGE! And when you put that one barge on a standard 15-barge tow (15 barges tied together pushed by a single tow boat), that is approximately 48 million pounds of material being moved up and down the river. (As a better visualization, that’s about 3,650 large African elephants!)

Here’s a picture of a single tow pushing 21 barges:

River barge.jpg

For shippers that need to move 2,000 or 20,000 or 2,000,000 tons of material and want to do in the most efficient way possible, barging may be the answer to their shipping needs.

Let’s do some comparing ... (averages here people)

  • One barge can hold 1600 tons
  • One large semi truck can hold 25 tons
  • One rail car can hold 100 tons
  • One barge can hold the equivalent of 64 semi trailers or 16 rail cars
  • One 15-barge tow can hold 24,000 tons

Simply put, the material in approximately 64 large semi trucks can fit into ONE barge. So those 64 truck loads only have to travel to the transload on location/terminal and dump, if you will, the material from the truck into the barge. This greatly reduces the amount of truck traffic traveling long distances and allows the shipper to track their material much more efficiently. Another way to look at it … you can fit the material from 240 rail cars into one 15-barge tow.

Here’s another comparison:

  • 1 average box barge is approximately 200 feet long.
  • 16 rail cars end to end is 800 feet long.
  • 64 semi trailers placed bumper to bumper is about 3,400 feet.

To sum it all up, it really just comes down to barges taking up less space, holding more material, and making shipper’s lives more efficient.