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Association of American Railroads weighs in on climate policy

‘Policymakers, businesses and individuals must unite,’ AAR CEO says

(Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

The Association of American Railroads (AAR) published a white paper with policy proposals that address climate change Monday, focusing on collaboration, technology, reducing emissions and simplifying processes. 

Railroads move about 40% of U.S. long-distance freight volume, according to the paper, which is more than any other mode of transportation. Despite high volumes, the Environmental Protection Agency estimated that rail only contributes to 2.1% of U.S. transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions. 

This infographic shows that rail is the most sustainable mode of transportation, emitting only 23 grams of carbon dioxide per ton-mile compared to trucks, which emit about 202 grams of carbon dioxide per ton-mile.

“Policymakers, businesses and individuals must unite and act swiftly on smart, lasting solutions to fuel economic recovery and protect our environment,” Ian Jefferies, AAR president and CEO, said in a statement.

The AAR white paper suggested instituting market solutions that encourage competition and reduce emissions. For example, incentivizing railways to reduce emissions in the most cost-efficient ways possible while encouraging companies to move more freight via rail could be a win-win scenario to reduce emissions, save money and gain new business opportunities.

“Well-designed, economically sound policies can effectively drive the economy toward lower overall emissions, specifically in the transportation sector. Railroads stand ready to be a part of the solution,” Jefferies said.

Partnerships between the government and the private sector are important for sustainable progress and technological innovation, the paper said. AAR proposed more in-depth research and testing for alternative fuels, battery storage technology and carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS). 

CCUS technology gives industries the potential to capture up to 90% of emissions, according to the paper. It said that rail’s decades of experience safely transporting carbon dioxide makes it a great way to move CO2 compared to using trucks, ships and pipelines, which would likely be more costly or require new pipeline infrastructure.

AAR also stressed the importance of streamlining waiver acquisition to test and deploy green technologies. Several railways are already taking it upon themselves to operate more sustainably, whether that means setting emission reduction targets or testing new technologies.

Voluntary environmental moves railways are making

BNSF (NYSE: BRK) and Wabtec (NYSE: WAB) are testing a battery-electric locomotive in California. FreightWaves said the locomotive uses similar technology to electric vehicles’ regenerative braking.

Canadian Pacific (NYSE: CP) is working on a hydrogen-powered locomotive pilot project. One of CP’s line-haul locomotives will be retrofitted with hydrogen fuel cells and battery technology, powering the locomotive’s electric traction motors.

Railways CN (NYSE: CNI), CSX (NASDAQ: CSX), CP, Union Pacific (NYSE: UNP) and Kansas City Southern (NYSE: KSU) have already set or are committed to setting data-driven emission reduction goals through the Science Based Targets Initiative.

Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Alyssa Sporrer.

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Alyssa Sporrer

Alyssa is a staff writer at FreightWaves, covering sustainability news in the freight and supply chain industry, from low-carbon fuels to social sustainability, emissions & more. She graduated from Iowa State University with a double major in Marketing and Environmental Studies. She is passionate about all things environmental and enjoys outdoor activities such as skiing, ultimate frisbee, hiking, and soccer.