Shipping on the Great Lakes-Seaway – Efficient. Green. Sustainable.

February 12, 2018

Pathfinder - Cleveland, Ohio

Shipping goes big on the five Great Lakes, their connecting channels and the St. Lawrence River – forming one of the longest deep draft navigation systems in the world. For more than 200 years, this bi-national waterway has served as a critical foundation for the region’s economy.

When it comes to waterborne transportation, efficiency is the name of the game. Each year more than 160 million tons of cargo is transported within the region and to international destinations. Enormous freighters, some as long as a 100-story skyscraper, can transport up to 70,000 tons of bulk cargo ranging from iron ore, steel, coal, limestone and grain.

A 1,000-footer, for example, can carry 55,000 to 60,000 tons of iron ore per trip. A three-day trip with that much iron ore would take hundreds of rail cars and thousands of trucks, making maritime shipping a more efficient and environmentally-friendly mode of transportation for bulk materials.

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Research shows that maritime transportation leaves a smaller carbon footprint. On average, Great Lakes-Seaway shipping is 14 percent more fuel efficient than rail and nearly 600 percent more fuel efficient than trucking. This kind of fuel conservation results in fewer emissions and a cleaner environment.

Environmental impact of shipping methods:

  • Rail – 19% more carbon dioxide emitted than shipping on the Great Lakes-Seaway shipping
  • Trucks – 533% more carbon dioxide emitted than shipping on the Great Lakes-Seaway shipping

Number of miles one ton can be carried per gallon of fuel:

  • Barge – 514 miles/gallon
  • Rail – 202 miles/gallon
  • Truck – 59 miles/gallon


*Source: US Department of Transportation Maritime Administration