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In an environmental parlance, the etymology of the word “sustainability” dates back to a 1987 United Nations report on the global environment, according to New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority. In the report, Brundtland Commission Chairwoman Gro Harlem Brundtland defined sustainability as using resources in a way that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
Freight and passenger railroads interpret sustainability essentially the same way — to implement practices and adopt technologies to ensure they’re operating as eco-sensitively and efficiently as possible, now and for years to come.
“We want to provide an environment that’s healthy for employees and others affected by our operations, and be a good steward to the natural environment,” says Canadian Pacific Railway Director of Environmental Management Systems Grete Bridgewater.
Railroads have been going green for years, but lately they’ve been trying to broaden their environmental consciousness. Skyrocketing fuel prices, higher operating expenses, heightened public awareness about global warming, and growing interest among shippers and commuters to reduce their own carbon footprints all have rekindled interest in rail as a more — if not the most — environmentally friendly and efficient transport mode.
“We need to be green leaders for a series of reasons — for our own public and to influence national policy for an industry that does get it and is doing something about it,” says Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District of Oregon General Manager Fred Hansen.
Just as they’re pursuing sustainability from various angles, railroads are going green in a variety of ways, from recycling to incorporating green building practices to limiting electricity and water usage to operating low-emission locomotives.
In the following two articles, we explore freight and passenger railroads’ sustainability strategies and identify the varied hues coloring their green paths.
— Jeff Stagl