June 14, 2023

Freight rail trade group urges federal collaboration to reduce GHGs


The Association of American Railroads has outlined eight ways that the federal government can work with the U.S. freight rail industry to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the freight transportation sector and “effectively combat climate change.”

AAR’s new paper, released Tuesday, comes as government estimates calculate that total freight demand is anticipated to grow by 30% by 2040. Meanwhile, the Biden administration in January advocated using freight rail as a path toward decarbonization because rail makes up approximately 28% of U.S. freight movement by ton-miles but only accounts for about 2% of total U.S. transportation emissions, according to AAR, quoting Biden’s blueprint.

“If rail moved 10% of the freight shipped by our largest trucks, GHG emissions would fall by more than 20 million tons annually. That’s like taking four million cars off the highways or planting 300 million trees,” AAR’s report said.

The eight ways that the freight rail industry and federal resources can work together are:

  • Supporting low- and zero-emission locomotive research through partnerships between railroads and rail manufacturers and the federal government, as well as continued federal funding for advanced research.
  • Helping railroad partners decarbonize through continued support of capital grant programs for short-line railroads and grant and loan programs for locomotive manufacturers and rail suppliers.
  • Allowing railroads to transition their locomotive fleets to zero-emission technologies when those technologies are commercially viable as well as operationally safe and reliable. This includes not imposing prescriptive means for reducing emissions in the rail industry, AAR said.
  • Pursuing policies that see rail as a low-carbon transportation solution, including implementing a vehicle miles traveled fee that considers vehicle weight.
  • Enabling railroads to make operational decisions that allow carriers to maximize fuel usage and freight demand, including opting not to impose restrictions on train lengths, which the railroads say improves fuel efficiency and ultimately reduces emissions through operations.
  • Promoting a broad-based, economywide transition to net-zero emissions by prioritizing the availability of alternative fuels and supporting programs that expand the availability, enhance the performance and lower the costs of batteries, hydrogen, biodiesel and renewable diesel.
  • Encouraging testing of new safety technologies through promoting innovation and allowing for opportunities to streamline waiver reviews, encourage pilot programs and establish performance-based thresholds.
  • Embracing permitting reform that encourages timely, focused reviews of environmental impacts.
(Image: Association of American Railroads)

Emissions reductions can also be met through strategic and targeted investments in locomotives as well as yard equipment such as switcher locomotives, cranes and service trucks, AAR said. Fuel management and network optimization systems can also be developed and installed to ensure fuel efficiency while also improving network fluidity, according to the trade group. Work can also be done to develop more aerodynamic, high-strength and lighter-weight steel rail cars.

“The need to reduce emissions is not only an environmental issue; it’s an economic issue,” AAR President and CEO Ian Jefferies said in a release for the new report. “This has never been more clear. Policymakers must engage in partnership with the private sector to advance pragmatic, solutions-oriented policies that support immediate emissions reductions and encourage longer-term, sustainable solutions. As the most efficient way to move freight over land, rail is a critical partner in driving further gains.”

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