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August 2010



Short Lines & Regionals Article
Green short lines: Short-line railroads and environmental stewardship



Short Lines & Regionals

By Desiree J. Hanford

Companies across a wide swath of industries are trying to become better environmental stewards to protect natural resources. Count railroads among them.

For years, Class Is have acquired more fuel-efficient and less pollution-producing locomotives, among a host of green initiatives. But many regionals and short lines also are taking steps to shrink their environmental footprint. They’re retrofitting or modifying locomotives to reduce emissions, testing or using alternative fuels to generate fewer pollutants, or incorporating “green” features into facilities to cut energy usage.

There are many reasons why regionals and short lines are trying to be greener companies, not the least of which is being a good neighbor to the communities where they operate, says Steve Sullivan, vice president and executive director of the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association. However, there’s another main goal: reducing operating costs, such as by cutting fuel consumption.

Following are examples of how one short-line holding company and seven regionals and short lines are trying to meet those objectives while following their green pursuits.

Aberdeen Carolina & Western Railway Co.

Last month, the Aberdeen Carolina & Western Railway Co. (ACWR) announced it completed an “Eco-Motive” project, which called for converting a soon-to-be-scrapped locomotive into a “mate” or “slug” unit to help reduce fuel usage and cut emissions.

The mate, which has no diesel engine, is pulled behind a “mother” locomotive, which provides electric power for the mate’s traction motors. The mate adds tractive effort — such as for pulling a 50-car grain train — without increasing fuel consumption, said ACWR President Robert Menzies in a prepared statement.

“The ability to ‘dig in’ is so important when you start to move freight. It makes our railroad even more fuel efficient,” he said, adding that ACWR expects to save $250,000 in fuel costs annually because of the mate.

The short line, which operates a 160-mile corridor that runs through six North Carolina counties, is seeking new ways to be green and reduce costs, said Vice President of Marketing Russ Smitley.

That transcends to industrial development efforts in Aberdeen, N.C., where the short line is “interested in developing long-term relationships with businesses that are environmentally friendly,” he said.

Genesee & Wyoming Inc.

Environmental stewardship is a top priority for Genesee & Wyoming Inc. (GWI), which owns 62 regionals and short lines. GWI’s environmental policy is posted on its website, and all employees are responsible for knowing and understanding it.

“Our company feels very strongly that it is our corporate responsibility to protect the environment while conducting our business because we don’t want to harm the environment by doing our business, and railroads by their very nature can do that,” says David Powell, GWI’s vice president of motive power and environmental team leader.

One initiative involves voluntary compliance with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) “Tier 0” emission standards for locomotives built between 1973 and 2001. The standards require that during a locomotive rebuild, changes must be made to reduce emissions, including particulate matter.

Although Class IIs and IIIs initially were exempt, GWI began complying voluntarily with the standards in 2005 and 2006, says Powell. Since 2008, when Congress changed the legislation to include Class IIs, more than 20 percent of GWI’s locomotive fleet has been rebuilt.

Recently, the company began installing generator set, or GenSet, kits on three locomotives. GWI’s approach is unique because it’s replacing engines in older locomotives with GenSet module kits, which are 30 percent to 40 percent less expensive than purchasing a new GenSet, says Powell.

Work is complete on the first of the three locomotives. Last month, the Buffalo & Pittsburgh Railroad Inc. (BPR) unveiled the GenSet in Butler, Pa. Built through a public- private partnership between BPR, the EPA, U.S. Department of Transportation, Pennsylvania DOT, Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission and Brookville Equipment Corp., the GenSet features two smaller, computer-controlled diesel engines instead of a single large engine.

Work is 70 percent complete on the second GenSet — which also will be used by BPR — and should be finished at the end of September; the third GenSet, which will be used by the Ohio Central Railroad, is about 20 percent complete, says Powell.

In addition, GWI has added 14 mother-mate locomotives; installed 34 locomotive auxiliary power units (APUs) and plans to install an additional 26 APUs within the next six months; and equipped locomotives with 11 Automatic Engine Stop/Start (AESS) devices and 22 plug-in electric warming devices.

Iowa Interstate Railroad Ltd.

In fall 2009, Iowa Interstate Railroad Ltd. (IAIS) began testing B10 and B20 biodiesel blends supplied by the Renewable Energy Group.

As part of a recently completed test of the 10 percent and 20 percent blends, the regional, supplier and Kansas University measured the wear and tear on movable engine parts, as well as horsepower ratings and emissions.

“Biodiesel costs a bit more, but it’s supposed to be a little cleaner,” says IAIS President and Chief Executive Officer Dennis Miller. “From our point of view, [biodiesel] didn’t show any additional wear and tear on parts, and the engine ran about the same.”

Since 1999, IAIS also has used biodegradable soybean-based grease on tracks to reduce wear and tear, particularly on curves. And during the past three years, the regional has installed ZTR Railway Solutions’ SmartStart™ units on locomotives to automatically shut down idling engines to save fuel; relocated yards in downtown areas to sites outside of cities; and built some mother-mate units.

In addition, the railroad last year purchased 14 GE AC4400s, which reduced fuel consumption more than 25 percent compared with older locomotives’ diesel usage, says Miller.

Now, the more than 500-mile regional is consuming about the same amount of fuel today as it did a decade ago but moving twice the number of carloads, he says.

Iowa Northern Railway Co.

Similar to other regionals and short lines, Iowa Northern Railway Co. is using mother-mates to reduce emissions and cut fuel usage. Last year, the short line received a $310,000 grant funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act’s Clean Diesel program and overseen by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources for a “slug” program. To be completed this year, the program calls for purchasing two slugs to help increase pulling and braking power, and wiring three locomotives to convert them into mother units.

A GP-40 mother locomotive/slug pair have the same pulling power as a pair of GP-38s, which account for a majority of the short line’s fleet, says Iowa Northern President Dan Sabin.

“By having slugs, it allows us to increase our effort on the railroad in terms of locomotive unit shifts we work and reduce fuel burn,” he says.

After the two slugs complete 90 days of testing to ensure they meet the railroad’s standards, Iowa Northern might place an order for two more slugs by year’s end and take delivery in early 2011, says Sabin.

Meanwhile, each of the 163-mile short line’s locomotives now feature ZTR’s SmartStart units, which are designed to reduce fuel burned hourly while idling from 15 to 20 gallons to one or two gallons.

Sabin plans to reduce the short line’s overall fuel consumption by more than one-third, “and we’re well on our way,” he says. Although Iowa Northern expects to consume 1.2 million gallons of diesel this year, it’s “very possible” the railroad will use less than 1 million gallons, says Sabin.

“That goes right to the bottom line and enhances our profitability,” he says. “Our traffic is growing, so we’ll be able to absorb more traffic without buying more locomotives.”

New York & Atlantic Railway Co.

Earlier this year, the New York and Atlantic Railway Co. received a federal grant to help purchase equipment designed to reduce locomotive emissions by more than one-third. The $1 million project will reduce engine idling on 11 locomotives, helping to lower the short line’s carbon footprint by an estimated 35 percent, says Paul Victor, president of the New York & Atlantic, which is owned by Anacostia & Pacific Co. Inc.

“Anything to reduce carbon emissions is something that should be strived for,” he says.

The 269-mile short line plans to install an engine heating system supplied by Applied System Technics of Germany as well as an AESS system. The AESS vendor hasn’t yet been selected, says Victor.

Although funds have been approved for the locomotive work, the New York State Department of Transportation, which is administering the grant, is awaiting a finalized state budget, says Victor. New York & Atlantic aims to get work under way in September, with half the fleet to be completed by November and the other half by January, he says.

The short line also is considering taking additional steps — including the purchase of a new GenSet — to be greener. The moves will help generate fuel savings while the price of diesel ticks upward, says Victor.

“If there’s an energy crunch, we’ll be in better shape,” he says.

Paducah & Louisville Railway Inc.

Paducah & Louisville Railway Inc.’s current headquarters in Paducah, Ky., was constructed in the mid-1920s and was part of the regional’s Illinois Central purchase in 1986. But now, architectural firm Peck Flannery Gream Warren Inc. is designing a new $4.2 million, 20,000-square-foot headquarters in Paducah that’s “all about green,” says CEO Tony Reck.

Tentatively scheduled to break ground in fall, the headquarters will comply with Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards as designated by the U.S. Green Building Council. The facility will feature geothermal energy systems and be situated so more sun will shine into the north section and less into the south, says Reck.

“The building we’re in now is larger, but not nearly as efficient,” he says.

About a decade ago, the 265-mile regional started its green push with the locomotive fleet by using a mother-mate setup, says Reck, adding that the railroad also purchased and overhauled some old GP30s and GP40s. The regional continues to upgrade and modernize its GP30s to increase fuel efficiency, reduce emissions and boost its environmental stewardship.

“I’d like to think we’re a good neighbor,” says Reck. “In downtown Louisville, we work around the clock and we shut down the locomotives when possible.”

Providence & Worcester Railroad Co.

In early 2011, Providence & Worcester Railroad Co. (PWRR) will be able to gauge exactly how much fuel the regional is saving after spending the past five years installing idle-control devices on all of its 30 locomotives. Average idling consumption for “big prime movers” is about five gallons per hour and the regional should be able to greatly reduce that figure, as well as cut emissions, says PWRR Chief Mechanical Officer Dave Rutkowski.

“This will be the first winter we can actually start to monitor the fuel consumption,” he says.

PWRR has installed GE Transportation’s AESS systems on all its GE locomotives; APUs manufactured by Power Drives Inc. and installed/serviced by PowerRail Distribution Inc. on various units; and MIRATECH Corp.’s diesel oxidation catalyst on five Electo-Motive Diesel Inc. locomotives. When the APU program is completed in the near future, a total of 17 locomotives will be equipped with the devices.

PWRR obtained federal and state funding for the idle-control projects with help from grant writer MJ Bradley & Associates and non-profit air quality agency association the Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management (NESCAUM), as well as the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection and U.S. EPA, says Rutkowski.

Although PWRR doesn’t have any environmental projects planned beyond installing a few more APUs, the 545-mile regional expects to continue striving to be a better environmental steward.

“We’re always open to being greener here,” says Rutkowski.

Twin Cities & Western Railroad Co.

In 2002, the Twin Cities & Western Railroad Co. (TCWR) began operating the Minnesota Prairie Line using two original GP10s.

But three years ago, the 229-mile short line determined it needed a few more locomotives for the line, so it purchased two GP38s that weren’t in use and refurbished them, says TCWR President Mark Wegner.

However, the two refurbished GP38s didn’t feature devices to control idling when the locomotives sat at a Hopkins, Minn., terminal. To keep non-running engines warm and control idling, TCWR used a portion of a $3 million EPA grant to install HOTSTART Inc. (formerly Kim Hotstart) units on each locomotive.

TCWR also uses a 5 percent biodiesel fuel on the Minnesota Prairie Line, up from a 2 percent blend it started with several years ago. The line now uses about 35,000 gallons of biodiesel fuel annually, says Wegner.

“We’ve always been environmentally conscious in terms of how we operate and what we do, and we try to be community-oriented,” he says.

However, the short line needs to consider its financial health when contemplating environmental projects, says Wegner.

A project that has a three- to five-year payback is easier to justify financially, but a project with a long-term payback — perhaps more than seven years — can be a difficult without some type of public collaboration, he says.

“This is where we work with our elected officials,” says Wegner. “Think of the tremendous carbon emissions created by traffic congestion. If you can somehow measure the changes objectively, then maybe the public says it’s worth investing public dollars in these projects.”

Additional reporting by Managing Editor Jeff Stagl. Desiree J. Hanford is a Chicago-based free-lance writer.



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