EPA may seek tougher locomotive pollution regulations

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With its lead locomotive producing a considerable amount of exhaust, a Canadian Pacific train passes through Deerfield, Illinois, in November 2018. David Lassen

WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency will consider new, tougher regulations regarding emissions from diesel locomotives, the agency said Wednesday.

Reuters reports that the agency said it had formed a team “to assess how best to address air pollutant emissions from the locomotive sector. This team will develop a set of options and recommendations for possible regulatory action from the l EPA Concerning New Locomotives and New Locomotive Engines.

The California Air Resource Board had asked the EPA to set stricter locomotive emissions standards in April 2017, according to the Reuters report. And U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-California) told the Associated Press it commends the EPA’s efforts, saying that workers and residents in neighborhoods near ports and rail yards “have been subjected to increased air pollution from locomotives for decades, facing higher cases of respiratory disease and premature death.”

The EPA set its current standards, creating Tier 4 regulations for locomotive emissions, in 2008. But current operating practices, which see the railways operating fewer but longer trains, have led the railways to reduce the size of their locomotive fleets and have meant that few new units are built to these standards. . (In 2020, only 94 new highway freight locomotives were built for North American Class I railroads, and in 2021 the total was zero.) Most railroads are currently opting for refurbishment older locomotives; although these units have lower emissions (as well as better fuel efficiency), they do not have to meet the stricter Tier 4 standards.

Meanwhile, railroads and locomotive manufacturers are working on a number of alternative forms of locomotive power, including batteries, battery-diesel hybrids and hydrogen fuel cells. At a railroad industry conference, representatives of four major U.S. locomotive companies agreed that diesel’s days as the primary source of locomotive power were numbered, although its replacements are yet to be determined. [see “Locomotive builders seek path to the future,” Trains News Wire, Oct. 18, 2022].

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