Railroads fear losing out to trucks if California gets its way

Railroads fear losing out to trucks

WASHINGTON — Major freight railroads and their short-line counterparts raised red flags on Capitol Hill about supply chain consequences of a California regulation aimed at cutting air pollution from locomotives.

If the California Air Resources Board is successful in securing approval from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, California’s In-Use Locomotive Regulation, adopted by the state last year, would require all locomotives manufactured after 2035 that travel though the state of California be zero-emission – effectively banning the operation in California of locomotives that are more than 23 years old, based on the original manufacture date, the railroads asserted.

Because close to 70% of the Class I locomotive fleet moves in and out of California in any given year, “the rule dramatically increases the cost of providing rail transportation, and most likely shifts a lot of freight onto the highway,” said Ian Jefferies, president and CEO of the Association of American Railroads, testifying before the oversight subcommittee of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee on Thursday.

“That makes our customers pay more, consumers pay more, and it adds stress to the public infrastructure by pushing more trucks onto the highways, increasing congestion.”

Chuck Baker, president of the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association, added that if short lines are driven out of business due to the costs imposed by CARB’s rule, “businesses that have lost shipping options will move out of California or just vanish,” he said. “Millions of additional trucks would be forced onto the road, increasing congestion, crashes, deaths, and taxes for road maintenance.”

In addition to compliance timelines for both yard-switching and line-haul locomotives, the rules limit locomotive idling to 30 minutes except for certain circumstances, such as maintaining air brake pressure or providing heat or cooling to the locomotive cab. They require locomotives operating in the state to register with CARB and annually report on their activity, emission levels and idling data.

The railroads also argued that, aside from costs and supply chain disruptions, it’s not operationally feasible to transition to electric locomotives on a large scale in the time frame required by the regulation.

Their arguments were countered by Alan Abbs, legislative officer for the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, based in San Francisco.

The regulation, Abbs said, “calls for a steady reduction of emissions over the next 30 years, allowing for existing technologies to be used, while new and more advanced zero-emission technologies are developed.” He also said such locomotives are available for purchase today.

“Zero-emission rail transportation is nothing new. Electrified rail is more than 100 years old and is widely used around the world, nearly every locomotive operating today runs on fully electric motors which can be powered other than using diesel generators.”

Abbs also pointed out that despite industry warnings about costs, unachievable timelines, and lost business, those fears have not materialized as California has tightened its environmental laws.

“We would be the fifth largest power house if we were a country, and we’ve done that by making the state cleaner,” he said.

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