Rail boom pushes greener trains

Cargo cars on a freight train

TEXT OF STORY

Lisa Napoli: Tomorrow, The EPA is expected to announce new rules requiring cleaner engines on ships and trains. Since the year 2000, the nation's five big freight rail carriers have spent $10 billion on new tracks, rail yards and equipment. From the Marketplace Sustainability Desk, Sarah Gardner reports these are boom times in the railroad industry.


Sarah Gardner: U.S. railroads still carry coal and timber for manufacturing. But increasingly, they're moving containers full of Chinese-made consumer goods from ports to cities. America's appetite for imports just keeps growing, and rail carriers want a bigger piece of that business.

Bob Gramaila: As that grows, you cannot put it all on the highways.

Bob Gramaila is with Union Pacific. He and other rail execs say their trains can carry some of the consumer goods that trucks now move -- and do it "greener."

Gramaila: Freight rail is about three times more fuel efficient, and therefore more environmental friendly than trucks on a ton/mile basis.

Rail companies have been pushing that line in their expansion efforts. CSX railroad even worked up a "carbon calculator" on its website so shippers could see emissions savings from rail. And Maine's governor is pushing trains as a greener transport alternative that can cut highway maintenance costs. But rail's green PR sticks in the craw of some of the industry's critics.

Barry Wallerstein, a southern California air quality regulator, has sued the rail companies over their diesel emissions. He says they contribute to the region's smog.

Barry Wallerstein: They're not a cleaner choice until they have cleaner technology fully utilized, including on their locomotives. And frankly they have had their head in the sand about the issue of air pollution clean-up for decades.

Tim Lynch at the American Trucking Association says greener or not, in the end, he doesn't believe trains pose a serious threat to the long-haul trucker.

Tim Lynch: Because the railroad is a fixed line that begins at one point and ends at one point. Once it gets off of that, it has to be in a truck.

Barry Wallerstein says trucks are adopting cleaner technology faster than trains. One reason is federal laws have historically shielded rail from serious regulation.

Environmentalists are hailing the EPA's decision due tomorrow to demand cleaner train engines, but fear the feds will wait a full decade to put the requirements in place.

In Los Angeles, I'm Sarah Gardner for Marketplace.

About the author

Sarah Gardner is a reporter on the Marketplace sustainability desk covering sustainability news spots and features.

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