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Rail News Home Short Lines & Regionals

April 2008

Rail News: Short Lines & Regionals

The power of a public entity


Tacoma Rail is making “green” strides in its mechanical department in more ways than one. The Tacoma, Wash., short line is pursuing an environmentally friendly locomotive fleet and generating additional revenue by servicing a Class I’s power.

Owned by the city of Tacoma and controlled by Tacoma Public Utilities, the 204-mile short line began servicing Union Pacific Railroad’s locomotives in September 2006 to solve frequent interchange problems.

“We often had trains with power and no crews, or crews and no power,” says Dan McCabe, Tacoma Rail section manager of finance and technology.

To ensure power availability, Tacoma Rail managers worked with UP officials to begin servicing the Class I’s locomotives at the short line’s shop, where workers provide fuel and sand, and clean glass.

Tacoma Rail had enough shop capacity to take on the servicing work, but hired three additional shop workers and one mechanic, says McCabe. The short line plans to expand its locomotive servicing facility and recently obtained a $250,000 near-zero-percent loan from the Washington State Department of Transportation to help fund the project.

UP is saving time and avoiding operational conflicts by contracting Tacoma Rail instead of sending locomotives to Seattle for servicing, he says.

“Trains had to go South, where the locomotives were coming up from the North, and there was no room to run around on the UP mainline in Fife, [Wash.],” says McCabe.

Now, locomotives consistently are available in 12 hours or less and Tacoma Rail is tapping a new revenue source. In 2007 — the first full year of servicing operations — the short line invoiced UP for $1.08 million to service a total of 1,541 locomotives.

Tacoma Rail also is helping the Class I transition to low-sulfur diesel by pumping blended fuel into UP locomotives, says McCabe.

Eye on emissions

The short line already has begun converting its own 18-unit power fleet to ultra-low-sulfur diesel — a process than began in June 2006 — even though the emission-reducing fuel won’t be a federal standard until 2012, he says. Tacoma Rail also is considering a plan to blend fuel with 7 percent ethanol to further reduce emissions.

During the past two years, the short line has taken several measures to lower emissions and fuel usage. Tacoma Rail began using Interstate-McBee L.L.C.’s EcoTip® Superstack fuel injectors, which have reduced particulate matter emissions 44 percent and provided 3 percent in fuel savings; Kim Hotstart’s Diesel Drive Heating System® to keep engine fluids warm and reduce idling; and ZTR Control Systems’ SmartStart® systems to monitor locomotive conditions. By reducing idling with four of its locomotives in stop-and-go areas last year, the railroad (during a 275-day period) saved four gallons of fuel per hour, as well as a total of 47,500 gallons of diesel and $110,000.

Earlier this year, Tacoma Rail obtained a second near-zero-percent state loan to expand its use of idle-reduction technologies, says McCabe.

“We’re in the public eye and we want to set a standard for the rest of the industry,” he says.

The short line also is seeking $1.5 million in the federal fiscal-year 2009 budget to acquire an environmentally friendly generator-set (GenSet) switcher within the next three years.

Tacoma Rail tested a two-engine National Railway Equipment Co. N-Viromotive™ GenSet unit in summer 2007, and plans to test a three-engine model this summer and as well as a Railpower Technologies Corp. GenSet locomotive later this year.

The ongoing environmental efforts have helped the railroad garner membership in the EPA’s Smartway Transport® Partnership. In September 2007, Tacoma Rail became the second short-line member in the voluntary emission-reduction program.

“We’ve committed to reducing emissions by 10 percent per year for the next three years,” says McCabe.

— Jeff Stagl


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