Taken together, North American freight railroads have nearly 140,000 miles of rail lines crisscrossing the United States and traversing the borders with Canada and Mexico.

Along their journeys across time zones and topographies, trains pass through a wide range of habitats, including national parks, forests, prairies and wetlands, which are home to rich and diverse species. Freight railroads are committed to protecting and improving the environments in which they operate. They do this through several approaches.

Extensive Environmental Impact Assessments Before Construction

Before starting construction projects, railroads evaluate the likely environmental impact of a proposed project or development, considering socioeconomic, cultural and human-health impacts. Canadian National (CN), whose lines traverse wilderness regions across Canada and extend down to the Gulf of Mexico, conducts environmental and social impact assessments to understand potential ecosystem and biodiversity risks and identify mitigation measures.

Preserving & Restoring Ecosystems

Canadian Pacific’s (CP) careful approach to managing operations that travel through the Canadian and U.S. wilderness is a powerful example of preserving and protecting the natural ecosystem. To preserve wildlife along its lines, Canada’s federal government and CP completed a five-year grizzly bear research initiative, funded in part by a $1 million grant from CP, to better understand and prevent bear-train collisions. One protective measure that emerged from the effort included a robust investment by CP in a vegetation management program in Canada’s Banff and Yoho national parks to decrease plants that attract the bears near rail lines.

Due to concerns over coastal erosion, Norfolk Southern (NS) restored nine acres of shoreline near its Norfolk, Virginia facilities. NS brought in more than 2,300 cubic yards of sand — roughly 200 dump truck loads — to rebuild the eroded shoreline. Comprising an area the size of three football fields, the shoreline was restored with native spartina marsh grass, creating an oasis of green along an industrial riverfront that generates jobs and other economic benefits for the region. Nearly 24,000 plantings of native saltwater marsh will stabilize the shore and provide wildlife habitat for oysters, river otters, shorebirds and other wildlife on the Elizabeth River while protecting railroad property from rising coastal tides.

Managing Vegetation

Railroads also manage growth near where they operate to improve ecosystems for generations to come and to mitigate pressing climate issues.

In one example, NS teamed up with GreenTrees, a reforestation and carbon capture company, to plant 6 million trees on 10,000 acres in the Mississippi Alluvial Valley, the nation’s largest watershed and vital wildlife habitat. The valley stretches from the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers in southern Illinois to the freshwater swamps along the Mississippi River down to the Gulf of Mexico. As GreenTrees’ largest corporate investor, NS is helping revitalize the region’s economy while improving its environmental health.

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