Railroads have taken significant steps to curtail their environmental footprint in obvious places like locomotives and railyards — and in less visible areas, too.


CSX instituted a new e-waste buyback program in 2019 to separate e-waste from trash so that it can be refurbished, resold or recycled. “E-waste” refers to consumer and business electronic equipment near or at the end of its useful life.

By the end of 2019, CSX’s program had collected 8,300 devices and successfully diverted more than 630,000 pounds of waste away from landfills — the equivalent of more than 150 cars. Some 70% of discarded company laptops and 50% of discarded desktops could be refurbished and either resold or donated to those in need. In total, almost 98% of retired electronic assets were processed and resold or recycled in 2019.

Office Operations

Canadian Northern (CN) leveraged government and utility company subsidies to implement energy efficiency projects in office operations. The projects have reduced energy consumption and contributed to lowering emissions and reducing capital and operating costs. Specific projects included upgrading heating ventilation and cooling systems, installing more efficient air compressors and yard air lines to charge train braking systems and upgrading lighting. CN also is investing in energy-efficient data centers.


Kansas City Southern (KCS) ramped up renewable energy efforts across its operations. For example, the company reduced the size of its data center in Wyandotte, Kansas from 3,500 square feet to 800 square feet and installed more efficient cooling and lighting systems. These changes helped lower the data center’s electricity usage by 44% in 2018 compared to the previous year. Additionally, by 2018, KCS used solar energy as a primary or alternative power source for 94 track signal locations and 14 mobile Wi-Fi pods mounted on solar panels at three intermodal facilities in the U.S. and Mexico.

Another major freight railroad, Union Pacific, reduced energy consumption in 2020 by 2.0 million kilowatt-hours, enough to power more than 239 U.S. homes annually. Many of the energy-reduction projects were employee-driven solutions, such as retrofitting facility lights with LED bulbs. Another key project was upgrading the air compressor system in the company’s expansive Englewood Yard in Houston, which will save 657,000 kWh annually. The company also has made a significant investment in solar energy. It continues to accrue energy savings through solar panels at two intermodal facilities in Joliet, Illinois and Santa Teresa, New Mexico. The solar arrays are tied to the electrical power grid in both locations, providing energy to the electric utility and offsetting the amount consumed at these locations.