Railway companies — big commitment, huge impact: Diesel emission reduction in Kansas City

This the fourth post in a five-part series about diesel emissions reduction in the Kansas City area. Previous posts included information about how schools and local governments and utilities are working to make Kansas City’s air cleaner. Tomorrow’s post will cover improvements in private fleets.

DERA-Blog-railroadsRail provides an extremely fuel-efficient and reliable method of transporting materials great distances over land. Diesel locomotives in operation today are incredibly durable, and it is not uncommon to find a locomotive that is 35–40 years old still in operation. The engines for these behemoths were state of the art for their time, but emissions reduction technology has come a very long way since then.

Particularly in rail yards, locomotives are typically left running and ready to work at all times, resulting in upwards of 3,000 hours of idling per locomotive each year! There are reasons for this, though. First, engineers often control locomotives remotely, and if the engine shuts off the equipment can’t communicate. The engine must be started again, which prompts a lengthy and complex restart sequence. Second, water — without antifreeze — is used to cool engines. This contributes to the locomotive’s longevity, but requires coolant temperatures to stay above freezing at all times to prevent significant damage.

The most frequent retrofit for locomotive engines is the Automatic Engine Shutdown/Startup Device (AESSD). This device monitors critical systems such as battery power and coolant temperature and, when engaged, will turn off the engine if there is sufficient battery power and heat to maintain the systems. When the battery or temperature runs low, the AESSD will turn the engine back on. Considering the size and age of the engines, as well as the amount of idling per year, AESSD retrofits can have a big impact on air quality.  Financial incentives and assistance help railway companies retrofit more locomotives more quickly.

A second form of idle reduction technology is the Shore Connection System (SCS) which adds at least one electrical hookup bay within a rail yard and equips multiple locomotives with electrical hookups. Like the AESSD, the SCS allows a locomotive engine to be shut off temporarily. The SCS will maintain the coolant temperature and charge all systems without the need for constant idling.

Railroads seek to replace and upgrade outdated engines as funding allows, butit can be prohibitively expensive. Meanwhile, railway companies in the Kansas City region have made huge time and financial investments in reduced idling. AESSDs reduce locomotive idling by 50 percent and cut back fuel consumption by more than 10 percent. That saves more than 1,500 hours of idling and 7,500 gallons of diesel per engine each year! Since 2010, $550,910 has been invested in grant-funded rail projects in the region, including $340,798 (62 percent) in federal assistance, and $210,112 (38 percent) in matching funds invested by rail companies.

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