Tracking the Future: Trends in Railroad Sustainability

TiEnergy News_Tracking the Future: Trends in Railroad Sustainability

Railroads are already a sustainable option for freight shipping and passenger travel—the CO2 footprint is lower than that of air, car, or long-haul truck transportation. In fact, less than one percent of global carbon emissions are attributed to rail travel (source: McKinsey, 2023). Still, there is continued focus on the Environmental, Sustainability, and Governance (ESG) aspects of rail operations, and carbon emissions are just one piece of a larger puzzle. Here are additional trends in sustainability impacting railroads.

Traffic decongestion:

Another positive of rail travel and freight is its potential to reduce road congestion. Denver, Colorado launched a “Zero Fare for Better Air” campaign in July and August of 2023, eliminating fares on its light rail system to encourage people to shift to public modes of transportation, reducing both traffic and carbon emissions at the same time. Other cities are encouraging rail travel by highlighting the health benefits. A study in Charlotte, North Carolina found that people who traveled by light rail could reduce their Body Mass Index and obesity risk simply because of the additional walking involved to go to and from train platforms.

Alternative fuel source investment:

Cars are becoming increasingly electric. Major auto manufacturers have committed to complete transitions to all-electric models by specific dates, including Jaguar (by 2025), Volvo (by 2030), and General Motors (by 2035). While not everyone is on board with the shift to electric vehicles, the fact remains that it’s happening on a wide scale. On the railway side, some organizations and even countries are investing in trains that can run on hydrogen or biofuels instead of diesel and implementing pilot programs to test the viability of switching to alternative fuel sources.

Land and water conservation:

The majority of railroads are increasing efforts to support conservation efforts for the land, shorelines, and waterways adjacent to the rails. For example, Norfolk Southern is partnering with the Elizabeth River Project to bolster the shoreline and prevent further erosion, which provides the area with better protection during storms and maintains important marine habitats. Canadian Pacific Railway has committed to remediating any impacts on land and wildlife habits with environmental compensation projects, and Union Pacific manages more than 30 miles of trees along the Mojave Desert to improve environmental conditions while also preventing sand from blowing onto and covering tracks in the area.

Research has shown that effective ESG policies can lead to better returns and protect a company’s long-term success. ESG can boost top-line revenue, minimize costs, optimize capital investments, support employee productivity, and meet sustainability goals set by regulatory bodies and internal teams.

TiEnergy has been at the forefront of railroad sustainability since its founding. We’re proud that Founder & CEO Steve Berglund was named a “Notable Leader in Sustainability” by Crain’s in 2023, and we’ll continue to manage and develop initiatives that make railroad and landfill operations more efficient, profitable, and sustainable.

For more information, contact Greg at