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Rail News Home Union Pacific Railroad

August 2008

Rail News: Union Pacific Railroad

Class Is draft sustainability programs with one eye on stewardship and the other on entrepreneurship

By Jeff Stagl, Managing Editor

On Norfolk Southern Corp.’s home page, a large banner directs Web site visitors to a “green” portal that describes dozens of ways the Class I is trying to reduce its carbon footprint.

Ditto for Union Pacific Railroad’s and CSX Corp.’s Web sites. Visitors to BNSF Railway Co.’s, Canadian National Railway Co.’s and Canadian Pacific Railway’s sites also can find similar home-page portals.

The six largest Class Is are promoting their green efforts in a big way, and not just online. Along with an assist from the Association of American Railroads (AAR), they’re trying to get the word out through television and print ads, community and employee awareness programs, shipper communications and congressional visits.

Their message: Rail is the most environmentally friendly and energy efficient transportation mode. Railroads can move one ton of freight an average of 436 miles per gallon of fuel vs. about 140 miles by truck, and produce three times less nitrogen oxide and particulate matter emissions per ton-mile than trucks.

Class Is have been trying to reduce air emissions and fuel usage since the early 1980s. Now, their efforts to make freight rail the most efficient transport mode are gaining attention.

“We’ve been saying rail is three times more efficient for a long time, but it was hardly a headline grabber,” says AAR President and Chief Executive Officer Edward Hamberger. “Suddenly, gas goes to $4 per gallon and there’s more exposure about global warming, and people are taking notice.”

Class Is aren’t attracting attention to their sustainability efforts solely to tout their environmental stewardship. They’re trying to win more business. Large rail shippers, such as Wal-Mart and Toyota, are pursuing their own green initiatives and seeking the most environmentally friendly transportation providers.

“Shippers, especially consumer products shippers, are under pressure from their own customers to reduce their carbon footprint,” says Blair Wimbush, NS’ vice president of real estate and corporate sustainability officer. “A major factor in their transportation decisions is ‘green.’”

Class Is also are adopting sustainable practices to help reduce their bottom lines. The more they recycle equipment and materials, cut fuel usage, and limit electricity and water usage, the more they can reduce expenses.

With the rewards far outpacing the billions of dollars in total costs associated with sustainability, the large roads figure to keep going green in a big way.

“The focus on sustainability has sharpened our microscope,” says Grete Bridgewater, CPR’s director of environmental management systems. “We want to be the leader in environmental stewardship.”

Green in many hues

To reach the front of the transportation industry’s green charge, Class Is are putting dozens of large and small measures in place. They’re implementing new practices and technologies, as well as continuing to employ old ones.

One new technological tool is online carbon footprint calculators. Earlier this year, CN, CSX and NS added calculators to their Web sites, and the others plan to do so soon. Their goal: divert more traffic to rail.

The calculators enable shippers to enter a move’s distance and weight, and obtain an estimate on emissions that could be saved if the cargo is transported via rail instead of trucks.

However, data isn’t calculated the same way among the three railroads’ calculators, says CN Assistant VP of Environment Normand Pellerin, adding that the Class I is working with the AAR to develop a standard calculation approach.

Last month, CN also swung a deal that equates emission reductions to truck diversions.

The Class I established a protocol with the province of Alberta under which shippers that agree to switch their traffic from truck to rail receive credits they can apply toward their greenhouse-gas emission cap set by the province.

“We get more traffic and the customer gets an environmental gain by switching,” says Pellerin, adding that CN is working with other provinces on similar protocols.

Meanwhile, BNSF and UP continue to develop their own plans for what they’re calling the “greenest intermodal terminals in the world” in southern California. The facilities will attract more traffic, as well as handle more containers and increase productivity, the Class Is believe.

During the next few years, BNSF’s Southern California International Gateway and UP’s Intermodal Container Transfer Facility (ICTF) will feature low-emission generator-set (GenSet) switchers; electric-powered, wide-span cranes; systems designed to speed up gate processing to reduce idling by onsite drayage trucks; and lighting systems directed toward the ground to reduce glare.

Trucks serving BNSF’s facility will be limited to traveling on certain non-residential routes, and be required to feature GPS devices so BNSF can monitor and enforce compliance.

The facility also will feature solar- and wind-powered switches, says Mark Stehly, BNSF’s AVP of technical research, development and environmental.

UP’s project “addresses community concerns, such as smog, and reduces gate processing and truck dwell times, but also addresses capacity,” says Director of Environmental Operations Lanny Schmid, adding that the ICTF’s capacity will double from 750,000 to 1.5 million lifts.

The Class Is also expect to register operational gains — albeit on a smaller scale — from green initiatives developed recently with help from employees.

Cups runneth over

After NS launched its sustainability Web portal earlier this year, the Class I obtained dozens of ideas from workers, including 70 suggestions in one month alone. One worker recommended the Class I find a way to reduce the number of paper and Styrofoam coffee and water cups being thrown away.

“We’re going to give employees reusable mugs with a sustainability logo on them,” says NS’ Wimbush.

Meanwhile, CPR bestowed its annual environmental excellence award this year to a supervisor who helped develop environmental practices at the Class I’s Montreal yard, such as battery recycling and fuel-use reports for all of the yard’s equipment. As a reward, Carol Ann Odorico, supervisor of terminal access and billing, received a one-year lease on a hybrid Toyota Prius and will have her name etched on the first two GenSet switchers purchased by CPR in lieu of the usual plaque.

“Employees have a role to play, and what she did reflects the program,” says CPR’s Bridgewater, adding that future winners will be rewarded similarly.

At CSXT — home to 34,000 “green collar” workers, according to the Class I — a recently implemented Environmental Management System provides green guidance to all employees, and promotes environmental compliance and improvements. CSXT also provides a Web-based computer program that helps employees monitor water flow and quality, and manage water treatment.

In addition, the Class I since early 2007 has relied on an Environmental Crimes Unit to police potentially environment-harming actions at the railroad, and increase employee and community awareness of environmental crimes.

Employees also play a crucial role in another part of Class Is’ green programs: recycling, which saves the environment and saves money at the same time.

UP workers are helping address ways high-volume items, such as wood ties and used oil, are disposed. The railroad tries to refurbish most ties for re-use elsewhere in its system and recycle 100 percent of oil captured at fueling and servicing facilities.

Eye on ‘e-waste’

In addition, UP relies on employees to help recycle more “e-waste” — such as computers, cell phones and audio equipment — vs. disposing of the materials. If a device no longer is needed, a team determines if the device can be recycled, reused or rebuilt. During the past few years, UP has recycled about 150,000 pounds of electronic equipment.

CSXT also is ramping up efforts to recycle numerous materials, including batteries, steel, oil and locomotive filters. For example, the Class I now uses oil heaters that burn used locomotive oil to heat facilities.

CSXT long has recycled wood ties, a concept it pioneered in the early 1990s, says Director of Environmental Systems Carl Gerhardstein.

“Most used ties are shredded and burned as fossil fuel,” he says.

There’s a much larger component of Class Is’ green programs that’s been in place a long time, too: reducing emissions and fuel usage.

With federal and state emission standards continuing to tighten, and diesel prices on the rise, the large roads are zeroing in on locomotives, which emit more than 90 percent of a railroad’s pollutants and collectively consume billions of gallons of diesel annually.

All Class Is continue to obtain low-emission line-haul locomotives and keep an eye on upcoming hybrid models. They’re also acquiring or testing GenSets, which can reduce nitrous oxide and particulate matter emissions between 80 percent and 90 percent, and cut diesel usage between 30 percent and 50 percent compared with a conventional switcher.

From concept to conception

UP was the first Class I to begin using GenSets in 2005, says Mike Iden, UP’s general director of locomotive engineering, who came up with the idea of GenSets in 2002 and helped pioneer the concept.

“We spent $1 million to develop a twin-engine prototype,” he says.

UP now uses more than 160 GenSets and is acquiring newer models with six traction motors to increase power.

BNSF is using GenSets, too, and plans to begin piloting a hydrogen fuel cell locomotive in December. The Class I also signed memorandums of understanding with the state of California to employ all new low-emitting locomotives in southern California by 2010 and use ultra-low-sulfur fuel statewide by year’s end.

CN also is testing GenSets, but the Class I is more interested in applying the concept to line-haul locomotives and is working with Railpower Technologies Corp. to develop a more powerful GenSet, says CN’s Pellerin.

“You’re not talking about a lot of fuel saved at a yard,” he says, estimating a GenSet might save as little as 20 gallons per unit per month in some cases. “We’re looking for the home run instead of just a base hit.”

The Class Is also are trying to sock one out of the sustainability park by tapping emission-reducing technologies and employing fuel-saving programs.

CSXT designed and employed a locomotive auxiliary power unit to reduce carbon dioxide emitted during idling by 85 percent. The Class I also installed event recorder automatic download systems on 1,000 locomotives to monitor train performance via GPS and wireless devices, and work with engineers to improve locomotive handling.

CSXT currently is analyzing a “cruise control” system that would “control throttle like a system used by airline pilots at certain points” to reduce fuel consumption about 10 percent, says CSXT’s Gerhardstein.

BNSF is testing locomotive particulate matter filters on four locomotives with UP, which alone is testing oxidation catalyst devices and an Advanced Locomotive Emissions Control System.

BNSF also is working with the University of Illinois to develop a video camera system that can photograph a train’s side, measure the size of gaps and determine the optimal fuel-saving way to build the train.

“We’re working the kinks out,” says BNSF’s Stehly.

For the most part, Class I environmental execs can say the same thing about their respective railroad’s sustainability program. While they continue to iron out the wrinkles, Class Is plan to keep promoting their green advances to shippers.

The large roads expect to continue running television and print ads, such as NS’ “lonely gallon” TV ad that depicts a family of fuel cans making a cross-country trek to meet a train, only to find they’re not needed; and CSXT’s “Perhaps the most important thing we deliver doesn’t arrive in our freight cars” print ad that stresses how low-emission locomotives help improve air quality.

In addition, the AAR plans to keep running a “Freight Rail Works” campaign that features television, radio and print ads promoting rail’s “436-miles-to-the-gallon” advantage.

Sustainability sustained

Class Is also plan to tout their memberships in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s voluntary Climate Leaders and SmartWay programs — which call for developing long-term, comprehensive green strategies — as further proof of their sustainability commitment.

“People want to know they’re dealing with a well-run organization that actually cares,” says CPR’s Bridgewater.

Class Is need to be green-caring companies for the long haul to further increase traffic and decrease expenses, and further distance themselves from the bygone image of smoke-spewing, oil-spilling trains.

“There’s an effort to clean up our past,” says Bridgewater. “There wasn’t a high level of environmental awareness in the past.”

That there is now only increases the pressure on Class Is to ensure they’re covering the green bases. And that they’re deriving all the benefits they can for themselves and the environment.

“We want to make sure our company is doing all it can to have a smaller effect on the air we breathe and water we drink,” says NS’ Wimbush. “We’re still learning as we go.”

Sustainability among the short-line set

Like their Class I interchange partners, regionals and short lines are trying to reduce their carbon footprint. The majority of small roads’ efforts are focused on using environmentally friendlier locomotives and fuel to not only generate fewer greenhouse gas emissions, but improve operational efficiency.

Many regionals and short lines are testing generator-set (GenSet) switchers, which can reduce nitrous oxide and particulate matter emissions up to 90 percent, cut diesel usage up to 50 percent and improve adhesion up to 45 percent compared with a conventional switcher.

California short lines Richmond Pacific Railroad, the Modesto & Empire Traction Co. (M&ET), Central California Traction Co. (CCT), San Joaquin Valley Railroad, California Northern Railroad and Sacramento Valley Railroad recently tested Railpower Technologies Corp.’s RP20BD GenSet for up to two weeks.

M&ET officials determined the 2,000-horsepower, three-engine switcher handled the workload of three conventional units and reduced fuel consumption more than 40 percent.

Meanwhile, M&ET, the Elgin, Joliet and Eastern Railway Co., Providence & Worcester Railroad Co., Tacoma Rail, Nashville & Eastern Railroad, Dallas, Garland & Northeastern Railroad and Indiana Rail Road Co. (INRD) are among the regionals and short lines that have tested National Railway Equipment Co.’s 2,100-horsepower, three-engine N-ViroMotive™ GenSet.

INRD officials noted improved tractive effort and fuel savings of 67 percent during a two-week trial in October 2007. The 500-mile regional is considering whether to place GenSets in service.

In the meantime, INRD is acquiring six AC-traction SD90MAC heavy-haul locomotives this summer. The 4,300-horsepower units feature two-stroke, fuel-efficient diesel engines.

Pacific Harbor Line Inc. already modernized its locomotive fleet earlier this year. In April, the 70-mile short line received the last of 16 six- and four-axle locomotives remanufactured by MotivePower Inc. that are designed to exceed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Tier 2 emission standards.

Ahead of the pack

Meanwhile, Tacoma Rail has begun to convert its 18-unit locomotive fleet to consume ultra-low-sulfur diesel — even though the fuel won’t be a federal standard until 2012. The short line also might blend fuel with 7 percent ethanol to further reduce emissions.

Eastern Washington Gateway Railroad is testing blended diesel, too. The 109-mile short line is conducting a three-month trial of biodiesel containing a 25 percent blend of canola oil, restaurant grease, soy and other materials.

Last year, Genesee & Wyoming Inc.’s Rail Link began fueling five switchers at a Kingsport, Tenn., chemical facility with a 20 percent biodiesel/80 percent petroleum diesel blend. Rail Link expects the five switchers to consume more than 200,000 gallons annually.

Tri-City & Olympia Railroad Co. is taking its environmentally friendly fuel efforts a step further. Last year, the 127-mile short line formed subsidiary Green Diesel Inc. to produce biodiesel on an experimental basis at a Richland, Wash., research facility. Green Diesel recently began production and will test different fuel blends through 2008.

— Jeff Stagl


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