I assume that it makes sense to ask for the energy costs of transportation of different goods per weight and volumetric mass density, depending on the means of transportation (truck, train, ship, etc.) and on the distance of transportation.

I assume that there are either data or plots for this, but I don't know where to find them. A typical plot I'm looking for would answer the question:

How much energy (including losses) does it take to transport one metric ton of good X (having volumetric mass density d) by train for 100 or 1000 miles, today and 100 years ago?

Note, that 10 x 100 miles = 1,000 miles makes a difference because of the (energy) costs of (re-)loading and (trans-)shipping.

In case you don't find this question (or approach) sensible, please tell me why.

Background: I'm planning a data visualization project of transportation of all kinds of goods. One part of the project will be the routes of transportation: along which paths and for what distances are which volumes of goods transported? (On a global and a local level.) Another part shall be the costs of transportation.

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    I see some problems with this approach. E.g. 100 mi in the Rockies should be quite different from 100 mi in the Netherlands when it comes to energy costs. Also quality of train and tracks could be important, same when it comes to road-based transport. Furthermore, if you want to include all other costs, keep in mind that invention of TEU changed transport fundamentally.
    – Erik
    Commented Apr 29, 2019 at 11:56
  • @Erik: So one would have to add at least one further variable: region of earth (at least for road and rail-based transport). Commented Apr 29, 2019 at 12:03
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    @LShaver: So it should have been 100 or 1000 miles, respectively. (In German you would say 100 bzw. 1000 Meilen.) Commented Apr 29, 2019 at 14:13
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    Related: sustainability.stackexchange.com/questions/6677/…
    – user2451
    Commented Apr 30, 2019 at 7:02
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    Thanks for the link to your great question! This is also my way of thinking (data-based), which is in a wider context. (My interest started with the observation that today in Germany there are 10 times more trucks on the highways than there have been some X years ago. And today it's not obvious anymore what they transport - as it used to be when it was written on the truck.) Commented Apr 30, 2019 at 7:34

1 Answer 1


You might be able to use some of the data from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_efficiency_in_transport — which includes figures for typical per-passenger efficiency, but not for freight. There are also over a hundred footnotes, which might get you to better numbers or approaches.

Also I'd check to see if the IEA has done anything in this area: they probably have.


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