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by Jeff Stagl, Managing Editor
Intermodal terminals aren't the friendliest of facilities to their surrounding environment. Diesel-powered cranes, tractors, locomotives and trucks emit greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Lighting systems use large amounts of electricity generated by coal- or natural gas-fired power plants, and generate glare that makes its way to nearby neighborhoods. Dozens of pieces of machinery produce non-neighborly-like loud noises. And terminals span hundreds of acres, taking up a good chunk of what had been prairies or open land.
Class Is have been trying to make their intermodal facilities more environmentally friendly for decades, but they haven't had many technological options to explore. With the advent of wide-span electric cranes, solar-powered water heating equipment, light-emitting diode (LED) lighting, generator-set (Genset) switchers and other emerging technologies the past few years, large roads have stepped up their sustainability efforts big time.
The primary goal: ensure terminals produce less air and water pollution, and encompass less land. However, Class Is have another key objective that involves "green" of another sort. They're trying to save money — perhaps millions of dollars — by cutting fuel and electricity usage, purchasing less equipment and recycling certain materials.
"These are what we call ‘green and gold' initiatives," says Carl Gerhardstein, CSX Corp.'s director of environmental systems.
CSX has what it considers a golden opportunity to be both a good corporate citizen and budget manager by incorporating many sustainable features into a new terminal in North Baltimore, Ohio. The Class I broke ground for the facility, which will support CSX's National Gateway intermodal initiative, last month.
To open in 2011 and be operated by CSX affiliate Evansville Western Railway Inc., the Northwest Ohio Intermodal Terminal will serve as a "green" model for all of CSX's intermodal facilities, says Gerhardstein.
The terminal will feature wide-span electric cranes — the first to be used at a CSX facility — that require fewer diesel-powered hostler trucks compared with conventional diesel-powered cranes because they span more tracks, he says. The cranes also are quieter than the diesel-powered equipment and can generate power every time a load is lowered to help reduce electricity usage.
The North Baltimore facility will feature five wide-span electric cranes instead of 19 to 20 diesel-powered ones, and two hostler trucks instead of a more common 20 to 25 hostlers, says Gerhardstein.
"You don't need as large a footprint with these electric cranes, so the facility's size is smaller," he says. "We're evaluating these cranes for use at other terminals."
The Northwest Ohio Intermodal Terminal also will feature 12-foot berms to reduce noise and steel ties instead of wood treated ties to eliminate soil seepage. In addition, CSX officials are considering whether to purchase wind farm-generated power for the terminal.
Although design plans haven't been finalized, the railroad is trying to get the terminal certified as a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building, says Gerhardstein. Developed by the U.S. Green Building Council, the LEED rating system sets standards for sustainable construction.
CSX is employing sustainable practices at its existing terminals, too. The Class I is using solar-powered equipment to heat water, acquiring Gensets, recycling locomotive oil and other materials, installing LED bulbs in exterior lights and replacing air compressors with more energy-efficient models. The Class I also is seeking ways to further reduce electricity usage, such as by removing light bulbs from vending machines.
"Fuel is the biggest source of greenhouse-gas emissions, but electricity usage is No. 2," says Gerhardstein.
CSX also aims to reduce the time trucks spend idling — and emitting air pollutants — in terminals. Idling can last as long as 30 minutes to one hour, says Gerhardstein. So, the Class I is
analyzing biometric devices and different readers that could speed trucks from the in gate to exit gate.
"This will continue to be big push," says Gerhardstein.
Truck idling is a concern to Union Pacific Railroad, as well. Idling reductions are a key part of the Class I's proposed Intermodal Container Transfer Facility (ICTF) modernization program in Los Angeles.
When the $300 million project is completed in the next several years, drayage trucks will use an automated gate system featuring optical character recognition or similar technology to speed the entry process from two minutes to about 30 seconds. Overall, emissions are projected to drop 63 percent compared with 2005 levels.
The ICTF, which opened in 1986 near ports in L.A. and Long Beach, Calif., also is slated to feature wide-span electric cranes, ultra-low-emitting Genset switchers and a hooded exterior lighting system designed to reduce ambient light and glare. In addition, light-pole height would be lowered from 80 feet to 60 or 40 feet.
Among the project's objectives, UP expects to eliminate 71 of 73 diesel-powered tractors as well as noise-generating equipment, reduce the terminal's size from 277 to 233 acres, and establish a larger buffer between the facility and surrounding community.
"The goal of this project is to improve the environmental impact of the facility, while supporting the growth of the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach," said UP Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer Jim Young in 2007 when the Class I introduced the modernization program.
The Joint Powers Authority, which represents the ports, needs to publish a draft Environmental Impact Report before the railroad can determine how the project will proceed, says UP spokesman Tom Lange.
BNSF Railway Co. also plans to add many sustainable touches — including faster in-gate processes — to a large L.A.-area terminal.
The changes would reduce emissions at the Southern California International Gateway (SCIG) by 90 percent and make the facility North America's greenest intermodal terminal, according to BNSF.
The Class I proposes to upgrade SCIG with GPS-enforced truck routes, liquefied natural gas and other low-emitting hostler trucks, a soundwall, "urban" forest, Genset and hybrid switchers, and wide-span electric cranes. Last year, BNSF installed four of the cranes at its Seattle terminal — becoming the first U.S. railroad to do so at an intermodal facility — and expects to add the electric equipment to a Memphis, Tenn., facility by year's end, says Allen Stegman, BNSF's general director of environmental and hazardous materials.
The SCIG project needs various approvals before it can move forward, he says. When the project's completed, the terminal will be a "gold standard" of sustainability for all BNSF intermodal facilities, and perhaps for all terminals worldwide, says Stegman.
Automated gate systems also are helping the railroad achieve a sustainability standard by speeding the in-gate process and reducing truck idling. The systems use digital cameras to capture images of containers, chassis, tractors and unit numbers, and biometric devices to identify drivers.
The Class I already has installed the systems at terminals in San Bernardino, Calif.; Alliance, Texas; and Elwood (Logistics Park Chicago) and Corwith, Ill.
The systems have helped BNSF
reduce emissions at the four facilities by 50 percent, says Stegman, adding that the railroad is determining whether the technology is suited for other terminals.
The railroad also is analyzing other emerging sustainable technologies.
In 2007, BNSF became the first railroad to employ environmentally friendlier hostler trucks at a southern California terminal. The Class I piloted low-emitting, natural-gas hostlers to move containers at the L.A. Hobart facility.
BNSF has determined the hostlers reduce nitrogen oxide and particulate emissions by 90 percent compared with conventional off-road diesel tractors.
The Class I also is working jointly with the Southwest Research Institute to help develop a filter that can reduce particulate emissions from switchers. The filter is being tested on a switcher in service at a California terminal.
In addition, BNSF is testing low-emitting liquefied natural gas switchers, and is working with the U.S. Department of Energy and Vehicle Projects Inc. to develop an experimental hydrogen fuel-cell switcher.
The hydrogen fuel-cell unit is being tested at Transportation Technology Center Inc. in Pueblo, Colo., says Stegman.
Meanwhile, Norfolk Southern Corp. is conducting some sustainable research of its own.
The Class I is evaluating hybrid lift equipment that suppliers either are manufacturing or developing, says spokesman Robin Chapman.
"The potential for fuel savings is considerable," he says.
For now, NS continues to acquire Gensets and upgrade terminals' lighting systems.
In 2007, the railroad began a two-year initiative aimed at upgrading lighting systems at all facilities to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and cut costs. The new systems feature more efficient fluorescent technologies with pulse-start devices designed to quickly start up lights and reduce energy usage.
As long as their sustainability practices yield environmental benefits and lower operating expenses, Class Is will strive to be greener stewards at intermodal terminals.
"It's all about reducing our carbon footprint and saving money," says CSX's Gerhardstein. "Lower electricity usage and less fuel usage are big savers."