Railroad Sustainability Symposium Highlights Environmental Opportunities For Rail Sector

While most of EDF’s freight transportation clean air efforts address emissions from the trucking and ocean sector, use of our nation’s railroad system for intermodal goods movement has been growing. In fact, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) reports that intermodal traffic on U.S. rail has risen from 6 million units in 1990 to nearly 12 million in 2011.

As rail lines come to view intermodal as a growth sector and revenue generator, there are significant opportunities to ensure that freight transportation remains on a path toward sustainability. In that context, Norfolk Southern and GE Transportation hosted the 2nd Annual Railroad Sustainability Symposium last week to highlight current sustainability practices in the sector and to create a dialogue about how sustainability impacts railroads, freight transportation and supply chain logistics.

The symposium covered a wide range of topics including new locomotive technology, sustainability measurement, and land restoration efforts. Perhaps most relevant to clean air issues in environmental hotspots was an update on the NS 999, an electric switcher locomotive prototype first rolled out in 2009 by Norfolk Southern. This locomotive was designed with the express purpose of serving rail yards, an area with high traffic density and idling rates, as well as harmful emissions.

The NS 999 emits no pollutants from combustion and would be most impactful in reducing harmful criteria pollutants which threaten public health. Efforts to continue testing and developing the locomotive are ongoing, but the NS 999 represents a significant effort to address emissions at some of the most critical junctures of the supply chain.

Also of particular interest was the discussion on metrics and calculations for sustainability efforts. A number of companies represented at the symposium are a part of the Carbon Disclosure Project and/or the Dow Jones Sustainability Index. Many spoke of the need for accountability of emissions estimations and third-party verification of data that feeds into sustainability and emissions modeling.

The AAR showcased their carbon calculator, a popular tool also used by other transportation stakeholders like the Port of Seattle. These calculators estimate the amount of carbon dioxide emissions avoided by using a particular route or mode. Companies, shareholders, regulators and other interest groups continue to push for transparency in sustainability to allow consumers and suppliers of transportation services to measure their impact and achievements in this area.

The symposium was informative and the dialogue collaborative as representatives from the rail industry, shippers, logistics partners and others met to advance the sustainability agenda for railroads. Rail is a growing player in the intermodal market and new infrastructure developments across the country promise to spur additional growth for this sector.

Houston is recognized as a major rail hub for the region and at the Port of Houston, locomotives represent approximately 13 percent of port nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions and 8 percent of port particulate matter (PM) emissions according to the 2007 Goods Movement Air Emissions Inventory. As we work towards improving air quality in environmental hotspots and reducing carbon emissions across the supply chain, we look forward to engaging with rail partners on freight sustainability.

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  1. DRich
    Posted September 27, 2012 at 2:37 PM | Permalink

    Static testing was completed in the spring of 2012 and new batteries were ordered from Axion Power Intl. in June. Since that time, there has been no visible progress. The unit has been parked at the outer limit of the shop in Altoona and no battery has been requested for shipment. I, personally, was hoping that the locomotive might start field trials during 2012 as was the expressed intent of Norfolk Southern in Nov 2011 but is looking more doubtful with each passing week. The focus seems to be on 3 diesel genset SD40 conversion which to me makes some (but not a lot) of sense because if the NS999 is successful it will/might cost 1/3 as much but we’ll never know until it is outfitted & tested. I think it is time for Norfolk Southern to some sort of update on the project

  2. Ron
    Posted September 27, 2012 at 3:40 PM | Permalink

    “The NS 999 emits no pollutants from combustion and would be most impactful in reducing harmful criteria pollutants which threaten public health. Efforts to continue testing and developing the locomotive are ongoing, but the NS 999 represents a significant effort to address emissions at some of the most critical junctures of the supply chain.”

    A parked yard slug certainly doesn’t emit ANY pollutants, and being parked, NS999, IS BEING (forget the ‘would be’ claim) most impactful in reducing harmful criteria pollutants…
    If the NS999 represents in the author’s mind a “significant effort” by NS then I would suggest that this posting is PR of the worst kind; pandering, fraudulant, spin, a distraction, a lie, garbage…

    I am left with no alternative but to question the veracity of the other claims in this post with which I am less familiar!

    Apparently NS has found the means to save not only fuel with zero emmissions, but additionally they don’t even need to plug it into the grid. None of the GREENIES have found fault with the evolution of the iron oxide resulting from their abandonment of this project but I am sure they will soon protest that this albatross be recycled properly and NS can then take a carbon credit for not having mined more ore to make tracks. This post is an insult to the intelligence of anyone truely interested in sustainability efforts.

  3. Posted September 28, 2012 at 8:41 AM | Permalink

    A battery powered/assisted switching locomotive here and there is a good thing, but if real sustainability is the goal we must wean our transportation sector from oil, and railroad electrification is the key to accomplishing this.

    The concept Rail Solution advocates is called the Steel Interstate. Analogous in many ways to what the Eisenhower Interstate Highway System did for roads, the Steel Interstate would be a core national network of high-capacity rail corridors. Grade-separated and electrified, these lines would comprise the backbone system for movement of both people and goods in the 21st Century.

    The Steel Interstate has many compelling advantages, not the least of which is that it can pay for itself by national savings in imported oil. Substituting domestically generated electricity for oil can save billions of dollars now going overseas to pay for oil, keeping that money here at home to fund jobs, growth, and economic opportunity. Moreover, weaning our transportation sector from its nearly total dependence on oil would make the nation far less vulnerable to disruption from oil price spikes and ultimate non-availability.

    We are a 501(c)(3) non-profit advocacy group promoting the energy and environmental advantages of rail. The Steel Interstate concept and its many compelling benefits are detailed at http://www.steelinterstate.org

  4. Marcelo Norsworthy Marcelo
    Posted September 28, 2012 at 12:57 PM | Permalink

    Thank you for your input. Our goal with this post was not PR nor an endorsement of Norfolk Southern. EDF supports all R&D efforts that contribute toward the development of engines that generate fewer emissions. This may end up being the NS 999. It may end up being something completely different. As we know, all R&D projects have setbacks, delays, and adjustments, and they don’t always end up accomplishing the original goal. However, the NS 999 is one example of a research effort that could help advance lower-emission technologies (technologies that will ultimately reduce harmful emissions and improve air quality around environmental hotspots).