All Aboard

When shipping products across the county it’s far more energy efficient to use the railroad than a truck. A while back, I wrote about our Napa County Distribution Center (NCDC). It’s the only LEED Gold Certified refrigerated warehouse in the country certified by the U.S. Green Building Council.

There are lots of cool green features to the building, but one of the keys to selecting the site for our new warehouse was the proximity to a rail line for more fuel efficient shipping. “Not only is the [NCDC] designed to decrease our impact on the environment,” said Kathy Zepaltas, director of distribution for Kendall-Jackson, “it also enables us to ship more wine by train, making it even greener.”

Like many of the goods you buy, our wine is shipped from the warehouse to distributors across the country. Distributors are the ones who arrange pickup and shipment from our NCDC. They in turn ship it to the retail and restaurants where you buy it. In order to give them the chance to ship via rail we built a 2,000 foot rail-spur that connects with a local railroad.

Rail Spur at the NCDC

Rail shipments are more energy efficient than truck shipments for a few reasons. The tracks provide smooth and hard surfaces on which train wheels can roll with a minimum amount of friction when compared to the tires of a truck. Trains also only need one engine to break the wind for many rail cars; trucks can only be one trailer long and create a lot more wind resistance per load carried.

We ship both boxcars and intermodal. Intermodal uses a container like you might see on a ship that is shipped on railroads until it is dropped onto a truck, which then makes the shorter trip to a distribution warehouse.  A single boxcar can haul three to five truckloads worth of goods; intermodal containers are often double-stacked for better performance. Both are very fuel efficient compared to trucking, which is measured in miles per gallon to move one ton of freight (2,000 lbs).

One of the cool things is that trains have been following the same path as passenger cars; over the past 15 years trains are have increased fuel efficiency by 22% and are moving into hybrids with batteries. As a result, trains ship cargo at about 4.5 times the efficiency of a truck.

In the one year since we opened the NCDC we’ve increased our rail shipping pretty dramatically. Rail is up by almost 20% and we now ship 60% of our wine on trains. When you run the numbers the environmental impact looks like this so far:

We knew we were doing the right thing, but until you dig into the numbers you don’t understand how big a difference we’re making each year. My kids are big fans of Thomas the Tank Engine and I think Sir Topham Hatt would say we’re being very “useful.”