Advancing Environmentally Responsible Solutions at Rail Yards

The work of efficiently moving freight across the nation begins in rail yards.

At these busy hubs of activity, rail employees sort rail cars to build trains bound for other destinations and transfer containers and trailers between trucks and rail to deliver the goods our national economy requires. A large rail yard on a major railroad can handle a couple thousand rail cars each day, with a rail car potentially weighing 140 or more tons. Powerful equipment moves this freight through the rail yard to keep overall network operations functioning smoothly.

Railroads recognize that every operational decision and every piece of equipment in their yards represent an opportunity to reduce dependency on diesel fuel, drive down greenhouse gas and criteria emissions and lessen impacts to local communities.

Through a disciplined, top-to-bottom approach, railroads are lowering emissions from the moment a train pulls into the yard to when its cargo leaves the yard either by train or truck. Railroads are putting conventional thinking aside to drive tangible improvements for communities, customers and the environment.

Lower & Zero-emissions Yard Equipment

Traditionally, diesel-powered cranes have moved intermodal containers and trailers on and off rail cars. Today, zero-emission cranes are at work in many of the nation’s rail yards, eliminating one significant source of emissions while also reducing ambient noise.

To keep operations moving throughout the yard, small trucks, known as “hostlers,” ferry equipment from one place to another. Railroads are investing in newly available low-emitting natural-gas hostlers that have the potential to reduce nitrogen oxide and particulate emissions by 90% compared with their conventional diesel counterparts. Battery-electric hostlers are also being tested and deployed, which could altogether eliminate such emissions.

While the future is bright for zero and lower emissions equipment, railroads are not waiting to act. Across the yard, they are taking steps to mitigate and capture emissions in legacy equipment, such as installing filters on diesel switcher locomotives that reduce particulate matter emissions and improve air quality near yards.

Reducing Truck Idling

Yards are also where railroads pass the baton to their trucking partners who haul containers to their final destination. Helping trucks get in and out of yards quickly reduces idling, fuel usage and ultimately emissions.

Railroads have deployed mobile apps to expedite truckers’ entire intermodal experience and get them in and out of yards faster. Many yards also have biometric scanners that recognize truck drivers’ thumbprints, video portals that automatically read truck ID numbers and apps that provide receipts and digital paperwork as part of an Automated Gate Systems. These technologies help speed up truck entry from two minutes to about 30 seconds, reducing idling and emissions.

Fuel-efficient Locomotives

Locomotives have advanced fuel management systems that improve fuel efficiency by up to 14%. Whether they are pulling into a yard or out onto the mainline tracks, this software provides real-time recommendations to engineers on how to drive the locomotive most efficiently.

As a train awaits processing, stop-start systems known as Automatic Engine Start Stop and Auxiliary Power Units shut down the locomotive and restart it when needed, which reduces unnecessary fuel waste and idle time by 50%.

Smaller switching locomotives also move rail cars around the yard and put together new trains bound for destinations across the nation. Today, switcher locomotives powered by low-emitting liquified natural gas and experimental battery and hydrogen fuel cell technologies are being developed and tested as alternatives that could reduce both particulate and greenhouse gas emissions.

Continuing to Act

Railroads will continue to identify ways to reduce emissions throughout their operations. As policymakers consider ways to curb emissions, railroads remain one of their best options to keep the economy moving and dramatically slash greenhouse gas emissions.

AAR analyzed data and found that if 25% of the truck traffic moving at least 750 miles went by rail instead, annual greenhouse gas emissions would fall by approximately 13.1 million tons.

A cleaner environment and less congested roads are essential priorities for our nation. And, with the U.S. Department of Transportation expecting total freight demand to grow 30% by 2040, moving more freight by rail is imperative to our nation’s future.

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