2.1a Eliminating Trucks for the Collection and Transport of Municipal Solid Waste

Project Number


Project Summary

Eliminating Trucks for the Collection and Transport of Municipal Solid Waste

Project Status


Project Brief



Topic Area

Sustainable Urban Freight

P.I. Name & Address

Senior Research Associate, Freight Programs, University Transportation Research Center, Region 2
The City College of New York
138th Street & Convent Avenue
Marshak Hall - Science Building, Suite 910
New York, NY 10031
United States

This research will analyze the benefits that might be achieved by modifying current and currently planned waste-collection and transfer operations in the fastest-growing area of New York City, where the largest mixed-use commercial and residential development in the U.S.—Hudson Yards—is being built, on a deck, over a railyard that is enclosed on three sides by the High Line, the former freight-rail viaduct that has become the most heavily-used park in the world. 

Like other major U.S. cities that have exhausted the landfill capacity available within a nearby radius, New York has come to rely on long-distance transport for the management of its solid wastes.  Some 25,000 tons of this new form of outbound urban freight leaves the city every day bound for disposal facilities, an average of 600 miles away.  Since truck-transport of this heavy, bulky, low-value freight is prohibitively expensive and produces significant volumes of greenhouse gas, requires large quantities of liquid fuel, and imposes heavy roadway-related costs, New York and a number of other cities are moving from truck to rail transport to achieve the economic and environmental benefits of this more-efficient transport form. 

Typically, waste collected in compactor or roll-on/roll-off trucks is driven to an in-city transfer station where it is dumped on a tipping floor and the material is dropped into shipping containers by a front-end loader.  In some cases these containers are then lifted onto railcars.  In other cases, they are lifted onto barges which are towed 10 to 20 miles around the harbor to barge-to-rail facilities, where the containers are transferred onto railcars.  Although the intermediary barge-transfer facilities clearly introduce a significant degree of inefficiency, in both cases the operation requires a truck trip of some distance on in-city streets from the end of the collection route and imposes inherent handling costs.

The uncommon—and as-yet unexplored—opportunity offered by the mega-development now underway within the three-sided enclosure of the High Line viaduct is that Hudson Yards will have the first municipal-scale pneumatic waste-collection facility built in North America since the only other municipal-scale North American installation (on Roosevelt Island in New York City) opened in 1975.  Like sewers, pneumatic networks use pipes rather than trucks to collect waste.  After it exits the tube, this material is automatically compacted into containers.  Under current plans, these containers would follow the typical trajectory for refuse leaving New York City:  they would be picked up by roll-on/roll-off trucks and drayed to a transfer station or an incinerator.  But because the Hudson Yards is adjacent not only to an abandoned freight viaduct but to operating rail tracks that were once used for the freight that continued onto the elevated High Line, these containers could be lifted directly from the pneumatic terminal onto railcars that could be pulled out of the city.  By using this former freight line for a new form of freight, the refuse from this mega-development would never be in a truck.

By using the abandoned freight viaduct to provide the armature on which to suspend another pneumatic tube, new and existing buildings along the length of the High Line, in the corridor adjacent to Hudson Yards, could also avoid using trucks to collect their waste and haul it to a transfer station.  This material could be directed to the same tube-to-rail facility for direct export from the city.

This research will quantify the truck miles, truck trips, energy use, greenhouse gas emissions, and capital and operating costs associated with both the existing-and-currently-planned system and this conceptual alternative.


1.       Data collection

A.      Collect baseline data on:  refuse volumes generated by residential, commercial, and institutional sources along the High Line Corridor, including projections for the future occupants of Hudson Yards;  current and projected truck trips by municipal and private carters, along with the miles traveled from their garages to specific sites along the corridor, on their collection routes along the corridor, from the corridor to their transfer sites, and from their transfer sites to their garages;  and capital and operating costs of current and projected truck-based and pneumatic collection operations.

B.      Compile design, cost, and operational parameters associated with the direct tube-to-rail terminal alternative.

C.      Compile design, cost, and operational parameters associated with the pneumatic network.

2.       Develop design of conceptual alternative.

3.       Data analysis

A.      Calculate energy use, greenhouse gas emissions of baseline and conceptual alternative.

B.      Calculate capital and operating costs of baseline and conceptual alternative.

C.      Calculate net increases/decreases between the two alternatives relative to the cost and environmental parameters listed above.

4.       Progress

Preliminary baseline assessments of waste quantities generated by waste fraction and by waste generator have been developed for key buildings along the High Line Corridor.  A preliminary assessment of current truck-based operations (costs, truck trips, truck miles traveled, fuel use, greenhouse gas emissions) has been developed.  A preliminary design of an alternative pneumatic facility for collecting refuse from key locations along the corridor has been developed based on specification, cost, and operating parameters from multiple pneumatic-equipment vendors.  A preliminary concept plan for a pneumatic tube-to-rail transfer facility has been developed.

5.       Final report

This research is underway.  Preliminary findings will be provided in December, 2014.  A final report will be completed in spring, 2015.

Although hundreds of pneumatic systems are used for waste-collection around the world, and the number of pneumatic installations is increasing, and though major cities are increasingly shipping their wastes to more-distant hinterlands where disposal capacity can be procured at less cost than near urban centers, and other cities are served by rail lines that are or could be used for freight, we are aware of no system currently in operation that allows direct pneumatic terminal-to-rail transfer, without the intervening use of a truck-to-transfer-station dray.

The findings of this research could inform public and private decision-makers with regard to choices in waste-collection/transport options that could have dramatic effects in decreasing urban truck trips and the costs and impacts associated with them.  Although these specific findings will directly relate to specific New York City circumstances, the overall findings and recommendations might have applicability to other cities.