The California Air Resources Board (CARB) on April 27 passed a new rule aimed at reducing emissions from locomotives when they operate within the state.
According to CARB, under the In-Use Locomotive Regulation—the first-of-its-kind in the nation—operators will now be required to pay into a spending account, and the amount will be determined by the emissions they create while operating in California. Companies, CARB says, will be able to use the funds to upgrade to cleaner locomotive technologies; locomotives will also have a 30-minute idling limit. Additionally, switch, industrial and passenger locomotives built in 2030 or after will be required to operate in zero-emissions configurations while in California, and in 2035 for freight line haul.
“Locomotives are a key part of California’s transportation network, and it’s time that they are part of the solution to tackle pollution and clean our air,” said CARB Chair Liane Randolph. “With the new regulation, we are moving toward a future where all transportation operations in the state will be zero emissions.”
Currently, CARB says, operational emissions from just one train are worse than those of 400 heavy-duty trucks. To further underscore the impact of locomotive operations in California, emissions reductions from the new regulation are expected to be equal to almost double those emitted by all passenger vehicles in the state between now and 2050. It is projected that the In-Use Locomotive Regulation will contribute the largest reduction in nitrogen oxide emissions toward meeting California air quality standards by the 2037 deadline, according to the Board.
According to CARB, the reduced nitrogen oxide and diesel particulate matter—of which there is no known safe level of exposure—will bring an estimated $32 billion in health savings by preventing 3,200 premature deaths and 1,500 emergency room visits and hospitalizations. “It is possible to start working toward the health benefits with the technology that is available now,” CARB stated in a release. Cancer risk from exposure to air toxins within one mile of locomotive operations is expected to be reduced by 90%. Many rail operations, particularly in urban areas, tend to be in places that are home to low-income residents and communities of color, who often bear a disproportionate burden from the impacts of air pollution.
The new rules, CARB says, offer flexibility to come into compliance, including alternatives to meet milestone deadlines and extensions for reasons that can include issues with available technologies or emergency situations. Funding programs are available, particularly for companies that are taking early action or those looking to go beyond the regulation’s requirements. Funding support may be available through the Carl Moyer Program, Community Air Protection Incentives, Volkswagen Environmental Mitigation Trust and other programs, such as Advanced Technology Demonstration and Pilot Projects funded through the Low Carbon Transportation program. Additionally, billions in federal grants and rebates to reduce air pollution are available for operators.
“There is no clear path to zero emissions locomotives,” the Association of American Railroads (AAR) told the Associated Press (AP).
“Mandating that result ignores the complexity and interconnected nature of railroad operations and the reality of where zero emission locomotive technology and the supporting infrastructure stand,” AAR said.
The American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association (ASLRRA) on May 1 released an official statement in response to the implementation of In-Use Locomotive Regulation, stating that the Association is “disappointed with CARB’s decision to risk short line viability in California.”
“The rule mandates an incredibly abrupt, dramatic, unrealistic, and counter-productive forced shift of all locomotives in California, including all small business short line locomotives, to Tier 4 and Zero Emission Locomotives,” stated ASLRRA.
“While the spirit behind this rule is consistent with short lines’ environmental commitment, the
rule itself is impractical, unworkable, and simply not feasible for most short lines,” said ASLRRA President Chuck Baker. “In addition, this rulemaking does not acknowledge the impact of the elimination of some short line rail service to Californians.”
According to the statement, ASLRRA said that short line funding, which is sought through programs like the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Consolidated Rail Infrastructure Safety Improvements (CRISI), the Environmental Protection Agency’s Diesel Emissions Reduction Act (DERA), and California’s Carl Moyer Program, “are not enough to upgrade locomotives commonly used in freight rail transportation in the time allotted in the rulemaking.”
“As stated, the rule requires that by 2030, no locomotive older than 23 years old can operate in California. Short lines throughout the country safely operate locomotives that are 40 and sometimes 50 years old, and that length of service for a multi-million-dollar asset is essential to the viability of short lines.
“The rule acknowledges the risk of implementation on short line railroads, ‘If Class III locomotive
operators are unable to pass on the costs of the Proposed Regulation to customers, it is
possible some of these businesses would be eliminated,’” according to ASLRRA.
“Short lines would not in fact be able to pass on these costs to their customers and some of
them would be eliminated by this rule,” said Baker. “Other entities within California, such as the
state Senate and Caltrans, recognize the key role of short lines. Caltrans’ recent Short Line Rail
Improvement Plan states that, ‘Short line railroads are a critical part of the U.S. freight network.’
It unfortunately appears that CARB has its own agenda, one that is not coordinated with the
state of California’s Department of Transportation.”
“If some California short lines were eliminated, it would result in higher greenhouse gas
emissions nationally, and impact commerce and congestion in California,” Baker added. “Shippers would either need to move their freight by truck instead of rail or pack up and abandon operations in
California. If the freight moves by truck instead of rail, that will result in more fatalities and
injuries, more congestion on California’s roads, more burden on the California taxpayer to pay
for road damage, and more micro plastics from shredded truck tires in the environment and
“While this potential modal shift seems obvious, CARB essentially said in its rule analysis that modal shift was too complicated and uncertain to predict with any accuracy so all of these likely effects should be ignored,” stated Baker.
According to ASLRRA, the Association and short lines in California have participated in this rulemaking process repeatedly, commenting on the rule in 2021, 2022 and 2023.
“CARB has demonstrated extraordinarily little flexibility or even awareness of the unique nature of short lines as it finalized its rule. We will consider all options as we look to save threatened short lines in California, seeking a win-win-win result for the environment, short lines, and our shippers, not a lose-lose-lose result as this rule would provide,” said Baker. “Our agricultural, energy and manufacturing customers throughout California are counting on us, and we are determined to deliver.”
Port of Long Beach Responds
CARB’s recent actions to improve the air we breathe by requiring cleaner locomotives and zero-emissions heavy-duty vehicles in the state “are welcome and needed steps by the state’s top air quality regulator,” stated Port of Long Beach Executive Director Mario Cordero.
“The Port of Long Beach embraces CARB’s new rules, which mirror and support the 2017 update of our own San Pedro Bay Clean Air Action Plan. Our CAAP seeks to bring cleaner locomotives to this region and requires zero-emissions trucks by 2035, and CARB’s actions will certainly bolster our efforts and bring healthier air to all Californians.
“We will continue to forge ahead with our investments in and work on developing the clean air technology and network that will help this state and the San Pedro Bay ports to achieve these historic and groundbreaking advances in environmental sustainability,” said Cordero.
Among those initiatives is acquisition of a battery-electric SD70JR EMD® Joule switcher locomotive for Pacific Harbor Line. PHL will be receiving the newest iteration of the Joule line, a standard-gauge unit currently testing at MxV Rail in Pueblo, Colo. “Battery locomotives are ideal for certain railway applications,” said Progress Rail Senior Vice President of Engineering Mike Ramm. “Yard service is a perfect example, which is why PHL expressed interest to acquire the SD40JR for its operations.”
Progress Rail’s SD70J
The crown jewel of Progress Rail’s alternative propulsion initiatives, the aptly named EMD® Joule is available in five configurations, new or repowered (“R” nomenclature): SD70J (6 axles, 8.0 MWh maximum battery capacity); SD70J-BB (8 axles, 14.5 MWh); SD40JR (6 axles, 4.0 MWh); GT38JB (4 axles, 4.0 MWh); GT38JC (6 axles, 4.0 MWh). These units all feature regenerative braking for battery recharging. Customers can specify what they desire in MWh, up to the maximum rating. The modular EMD® Joule Charging Station provides stationary charging in 700- and 1,400-kW configurations.
In Southern California, BNSF will be taking delivery next year of up to four SD70Js with charging stations for continuous operation. Their 8 MWh of storage capacity will make them “the most powerful battery-electric locomotives in North America.” BNSF’s acquisition is funded in part by CARB and EPA grant funding.