Trains in the US are major polluters, as diesel exhaust is a well-known human carcinogen and toxic air contaminant. As per the California Air Resources Board, in California, train pollution makes up about 15% of health-harming nitrogen oxide pollution from freight sources.
The California Air Resources Board (CARB) is aiming for reduction in locomotive pollution. California approved a first-in-the-nation rule limiting rail pollution to cut greenhouse gas emissions and reduce smog.
The rule bans locomotive engines more than 23 years old by 2030 and increases the use of zero-emissions technology to transport freight from ports and throughout railyards. However, the Association of American Railroads expressed concern that the rule would be expensive for rail companies, and increased costs would mean higher prices for many goods that move by rail.
CARB estimates that operational emissions from a single train are more adverse than those of 400 heavy-duty trucks.
The rule would bring all railroads operating in California to zero-emissions, resulting in $32 billion in health benefits.
The rule would also reduce chemicals that add to smog, improve air quality near railyards, and prevent premature deaths. Railyards often operate at all hours of the day and night, blaring horns and churning diesel exhaust directly into people’s homes.
Southern California’s Inland Empire and Los Angeles regions are all too familiar with locomotive pollution. At least 10 of the 18 major railyards in California are situated in these regions. Many of these railyards border people’s homes and can reach up to several miles long.
Union Pacific’s Colton Railyard is just 350 feet from the nearest residences and neighbors of a local high school. The UP Colton Railyard accounted for a roughly 35% increase in cancer risk for those most highly exposed.
The US EPA adopted the most stringent Tier 4 locomotive emission standards 15 years ago. Less than 5% of trains that operate in California meet this Tier 4 standard. Under federal standards, locomotives can operate indefinitely under the same emissions tier as when they were first manufactured.
Freight railways are an efficient means to transport goods nationwide. Rail makes-up nearly 2% of greenhouse gas emissions in the US. Train pollution accounts for about 15% of health-harming nitrogen oxide pollution from freight sources in California, according to CARB.
Persistent inhaling of diesel particles can lead to asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, cardiovascular issues, and lowered lung function. The rule would require all freight, industrial, and passenger railroads operating in California to clean up their fleets over time.
The rule would prevent 63 tons per day of NOx emissions, making it the single largest emissions reduction effort in California’s plan to meet clean air standards.
The transportation sector contributed the largest share of greenhouse gas emissions nationwide in 2020. Community voices are at the center of why CARB is voting on this rule to reduce diesel locomotive pollution in California.
Trains contribute to pollution in communities near railyards and ports. CARB’s efforts to reduce train pollution in California will certainly help improve public health and clean air.