Freight rail is the most fuel-efficient way to transport freight over land, moving one ton of goods an average of nearly 500 miles per gallon of fuel. As an environmentally responsible transportation solution, freight railroads are continuing to invest in technology to reduce emissions in the existing locomotive fleet and researching initiatives to develop tomorrow’s solutions.

Today, railroads have broadly deployed technologies that conserve fuel, reduce idling and arm crews with information to operate trains more efficiently. These efforts have driven down emissions by increasing fuel efficiency across the rail industry, which is responsible for transporting 40% of the nation’s long-haul freight.

Railroads are working diligently to develop lower and ultimately zero-emission technologies that deliver an even more sustainable future. Railroads are taking active steps to further reduce emissions associated with current locomotive technology and move towards lower and zero-emission technologies that are still in research, development and demonstration phases. Numerous railroads have active demonstration programs for alternative fuel locomotives that hold great promise as tomorrow’s lower or even zero-emission solutions.

Current fuel efficiency and emission reduction technologies.

  • Anti-idling Systems: Locomotives use anti-idling technologies, known as “stop-start systems” that save fuel by automatically shutting down a locomotive if it idles for too long. Stop-start systems reduce unnecessary idle time by 50%.
  • Fuel Management Systems: Advanced fuel management systems give the engineer real-time power and speed recommendations, which improve fuel efficiency by up to 14%.
  • Distributed Power: Multiple locomotives positioned throughout the train reduce the required horsepower to move that train while also enhancing fuel efficiency and safety.
  • Biodiesel & Renewable Fuels: Railroads are exploring using different ratios of renewable diesel and biodiesel in existing locomotives, which could reduce carbon emissions by 20-25%.

Future lower and zero emission technologies.

  • Hybrid Consist: Railroads are testing battery-powered locomotive prototypes for mainline train consists. These locomotives recharge each time the train brakes and could reduce emissions by nearly 30%, according to rail suppliers. A recent study concluded a 3-month battery-electric locomotive demonstration in California’s San Joaquin Valley. Using this prototype locomotive between two traditionally powered locomotives reduced fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions by at least 10%.
  • Battery-electric Locomotive: Railroads, suppliers and academic institutions are testing and running real-world pilots of battery-powered line-haul locomotives that transport freight across the nation and switching locomotives that are foundational to yard operations.
  • Hydrogen Fuel Cell Locomotives: Railroads, suppliers and academic institutions are researching zero-emission hydrogen fuel cell line-haul and switching locomotives that have the potential of replacing diesel locomotives.