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Norfolk Southern sets sights on future emissions reduction efforts

By Jeff Berman, Group News Editor
September 02, 2010

Class I railroad carrier Norfolk Southern (NS) said it has rolled out a five year goal to reduce its carbon footprint through fuel-savings technology and improvements in operating efficiencies, as well as lower its greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) per revenue ton-mile 10 percent by 2014 compared with 2009 emissions.

NS officials said that the railroad transported 158.5 billion ton-miles of freight in 2009, which produced 4.7 million metric tons of GHG primarily from diesel-burning locomotives, and 2009 emission per revenue ton-mile were 30.0 grams. They said that with 2009 as the baseline and at the same traffic level, a 10 percent emissions reduction to 27.0 grams per ton-mile would result in 475,000 fewer metric tons going into the atmosphere annually by 2014.

The NS emissions reduction strategy will focus on ways to achieve better fuel economy by doing things like purchasing new, more fuel-efficient locomotives, continued deployment of idle-reduction and train handling technologies, and refined, engine maintenance practices, according to the company. Other efforts include addressing direct and indirect emissions for heating, cooling, and lighting buildings and other railroad facilities, as well as a nearly completed system wide lighting upgrade to reduce electricity consumption and the adjusting of its non-rail vehicle fleet to cut down on fuel and emissions.

“This effort is part of the sustainability journey we embarked upon a few years ago and is part of having a full company effort to address these [green] issues and concerns,” said Blair Wimbush, NS vice president real estate and corporate sustainability officer, in an interview. “Improving fuel efficiency is something we have been focused on for a long time; we are roughly 80 percent more fuel-efficient than we were 30 or 40 years ago.”

In terms of next steps for Norfolk Southern’s emissions reduction goals, Wimbush said that his office will collaborate with the company’s mechanical, purchasing, and container groups to continue their focus on deriving maximum engine performance with respectable fuel economy, and also work with the company’s transportation planning team to encourage, assist and help with new ideas on how to handle trains, schedule them, or eliminate bottlenecks through yards and interchanges.

“All of these things are being done to improve the flow of trains through the system,” said Wimbush. “They all have some bearing on fuel economy, which directly impacts emissions. We will also work on encouraging good practices throughout the railroad, because it is all about a mindset that says we can do our jobs as efficiently as possible while minimizing our footprint.”

Sustainability has been front and center for Norfolk Southern for several years, as evidenced by its Heartland Corridor project, which will open on September 9 and upgrade its rail route between Virginia ports and the Midwest, by modifying 28 tunnels to accommodate double-stacked containers and cut down on route miles and transit times. And the Crescent Corridor project, a nearly $2.5 billion public-private partnership (PPP) to build a rail corridor spanning from Louisiana to New Jersey, will improve its rail network from the northeast to the southeast, expedite the delivery of cargo shipments, and reduce highway congestion by diverting truck traffic. The entire Crescent Corridor project is expected to be completed by 2013.

And in September 2009, Norfolk Southern released its second ever sustainability report, which included its first-ever calculation of its carbon footprint—a measurement of GHG produced by its business operations. In the report, NS said that about 90 percent of its carbon footprint is carbon dioxide emissions from diesel-burning locomotives, with other sources coming from emissions from production of electricity for rail facilities and fuel consumption ranging from company vehicles to boilers. The report added that the railroad’s 2008 carbon footprint was calculated at 5.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents.

Other green-related endeavors by Norfolk Southern include:
-an order of four new PR43C locomotives from Caterpillar, which maximizes fuel and minimize emissions;
-the development of a prototype 1,500-horsepower switching locomotive that relies solely on rechargeable batteries for power, which is in service in Pennsylvania;
-becoming the first Class I railroad carrier to join the U.S. Green Building Council and submitting buildings from three of its proposed intermodal terminals—in Birmingham, Ala., Greencastle, Pa., and Memphis, Tenn.—for LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Certification; and
-and October 2009 introduction of an online carbon footprint analyzer, entitled the “Green Machine,” which allows shippers to estimate the value of carbon offsets as well as calculating the environmental benefits of shipping by rail.

A prominent expert of green supply chains told LM that the approach Norfolk Southern is taking to sustainability is the right one.

“The efforts by Norfolk Southern to reduce their carbon emissions and become more efficient provides further evidence and validation that such initiatives are good for business and the environment,” said Brittain Ladd, a global supply chain consultant for a leading consulting firm. “Establishing environmentally responsible business practices through the use of optimizing operations and utilizing leading-edge technologies can be applied across all corporations. Even though [Norfolk Southern] is saying it is focused on the reduction of carbon emission, the true focus…is on the need to think smarter about business and operations and to take advantage of strategies that are proven to reduce costs and complexity.”

About the Author

Jeff Berman headshot
Jeff Berman
Group News Editor

Jeff Berman is Group News Editor for Logistics Management, Modern Materials Handling, and Supply Chain Management Review. Jeff works and lives in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, where he covers all aspects of the supply chain, logistics, freight transportation, and materials handling sectors on a daily basis. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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Article Topics

News · Norfolk Southern · Class I Railroad · GHG · All topics

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