AAR’s policy paper addresses how freight railroads are meeting challenges related to climate change

A main theme of the paper, entitled “Freight Railroads & Climate Change,” focused on how United States railroads need to be a part of the climate change solution, at a time when Congress works to balance economic recovery from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. “The [AAR] and the rail industry recognize that the climate is changing,” the paper said. “If action is not taken, climate change will have significant repercussions for the planet, our economies, our society, and even day-to-day railroad operations.”

By Jeff Berman for logisticsmgmt.com

Earlier this month, the Washington, D.C.-based Association of American Railroads (AAR) issued a policy paper focused on safely and effectively combatting climate change.

A main theme of the paper, entitled “Freight Railroads & Climate Change,” focused on how United States railroads need to be a part of the climate change solution, at a time when Congress works to balance economic recovery from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“The [AAR] and the rail industry recognize that the climate is changing,” the paper said. “If action is not taken, climate change will have significant repercussions for the planet, our economies, our society, and even day-to-day railroad operations.”

What’s more, it observed that recent projections from the Congressional Budget Office stated that climate change effects will reduce real GDP growth rate by 0.003% annually from 2020-2050, not an insignificant tally by any stretch. And it could reduce real U.S. GDP by 1.0% in 2050. And it added that the AAR is calling on Congress to adopt effective, coordinated, and market-based strategies to significantly reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and also combat climate change.

And the paper added that U.S. rail carloads represent around 40% of total U.S. long-distance freight volume, which is the highest among all modes, coupled with railroads representing only 2.1% of transportation-related emissions, based on EPA data. With that as a backdrop, the paper observed that were 10% of freight that moves via truck went on rail, it would result in a decline of more than 17 million tons in GHG emissions on an annual basis, which translates into taking 3.35 million cars off the roads.

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

Some of the key policy objectives laid out by the AAR in the paper, included:

  • enacting reasonable, market-based emissions reductions strategy to empower competition;
  • restoring the Highway Trust Fund to a user-pays system with a short-term fuel tax increase followed by a structured transition to a vehicle miles traveled fee in the longer-term;
  • imposing an emissions surcharge based on vehicle fuel efficiency to provide dedicated funding for environmentally efficient passenger rail where appropriate.
  • embracing research partnerships between government and the private sector;
  • increasing funding for ongoing research into alternative fuels and advanced battery storage;
  • expanding and supporting use of carbon capture utilization and storage (CCUS) through market development programs and tax incentives;
  • providing operational and regulatory flexibility to spur adoption of new technologies.
  • ensuring railroads can continue to invest in modernizing and maintaining their infrastructure by preserving the current balanced regulatory system; and
  • allowing innovation to guide railroads’ GHG reductions and avoid prescriptive means for reducing emissions, among others

The paper also presented some longstanding freight rail environmental benefits, which have been heralded by the AAR over the years.

The benefit that is most commonly known pertains to how one train can carry the freight of hundreds of trucks, which reduces highway congestion, as well as freight railroads being three-to-four times more fuel efficient than trucks, on average. Another one observed that moving freight by train rather than truck reduces GHG emissions up to 75%.

The AAR also offered up various examples of how its member railroads are voluntarily reporting operations-based GHG emissions to the Climate Disclosure Project, which is an international non-profit focused on helping companies disclose their environmental impact, with various Class I railroads having also committed to “voluntary reductions in GHG emissions strategy.”

And Canadian Pacific, Canadian National, CSX, Kansas City Southern and Union Pacific are actively part of the Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi), an international collaboration with a focus on limiting global warming to less than two degrees Celsius.

Other examples of green railroad efforts cited in the report included: Norfolk Southern has created the “Trees to Trains” program — a carbon-mitigation strategy that reforests thousands of acres in environmentally critical areas to offset the company’s carbon footprint; BNSF’s testing of the first battery electric locomotive in the United States; Canadian Pacific is participating in a pilot project to test hydrogen fuel cell locomotives; and AAR and its members have formed a dedicated working group to understand new lower-or-zero-carbon fuel technologies and other climate-related issues.

Newsroom Notes commends the Association of American Railroads for issuing such a timely and relevant paper, which offers a lot of food for thought, related to how freight railroads are stepping up to meet a challenge that is front and center and not going away.

To read the AAR’s “Freight Railroads & Climate Change” policy paper, please click here.

Updated: March 31, 2021 — 6:18 PM

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