Green diesel locomotion: Some new-switcher-oo ‘pulling’ for a change

In all of my live-long days I have never heard a diesel locomotive described – for all practical purposes – as a black-soot-belching volcano; that is, not before today.

But, seriously. If the majority of diesel locomotives contribute a fair amount of locomotive-engine-sourced pollution released into the atmosphere then I could definitely understand why efforts aimed at “greening” diesel locomotion would be worth pursuing.

Lots of switching goin’ on

Where freight and passenger rail yards exist, there is typically lots of railcar switching (also referred to as shuffling, shunting and shuttling) going on.

Close to where I reside, meanwhile, there is a good-sized railroad freight yard. But, not just this, in passing by the yard in my car on the adjacent highway, at times when railroad-car switching operations are taking place, it is not an uncommon sight to see yard or switch locomotives engaged in these chores.

At the yard’s throats (locations where mainline tracks feed or lead into and out of the yard proper), highway overpasses are in place in this case. On the one on the north end – a concrete structure – highly visible on its underside is, presumably, train-locomotive-exhaust residue and, here again, I presume on account of frequent train movement or locomotive idling occurring underneath.

Now being that Fresno, California and the San Joaquin Valley is like a dirty air magnet where toxic air pollutants tend to both gather and build, it is regions like this and others that could benefit significantly by supporting efforts that encourage railroads that maintain a presence in such areas to conduct as “green” an operation as is practicable – especially if said railroads conduct yard operations in the locations in question.

I feel the important parameter here is how much pollution that would ordinarily come from switch locomotives can be cut.

As it applies to railroad switching locomotives, there are those that are manufactured (built from scratch) and then there are those that are remanufactured or upgraded, in other words. One ultra-low-emissions-diesel-switch-engine manufacturer is Wabtec Corporation.

In its Feb. 28, 2008 MotivePower Introduces Ultra Low Emissions Switcher Locomotive With Multi-Engine Design news release, Wabtec wrote: “The [MPEX] locomotive is expected to produce fuel savings of at least 35 percent, while reducing emissions of NOx [nitrogen oxides] by at least 80 percent and particulate matter by at least 70 percent.”

The ultra-low-emissions switch locomotives at the time were to be offered in both two-engine and three-engine-design configurations.

For information on locomotive exhaust emissions standards from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency go here.

– Alan Kandel