Rail sector keeps emissions, fuel use down as freight volumes continue to rise
Canada's 60 freight and passenger railways have continued to control their fuel consumption, cut greenhouse gases, and minimize their environmental impact while hauling nearly 30% more freight and passengers since the 1990 baseline year.
Details on these achievements are presented in the industry's just-published Locomotive Emissions Monitoring program report to Environment Canada for 2003. The reporting exercise is a component of a ten-year voluntary agreement signed by the Railway Association of Canada and the federal government in 1995. The association is currently negotiating a new agreement with Environment Canada and Transport Canada, slated to take effect in 2006.
Since the signing of the industry-government Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), rail freight traffic has been increasing by an average annual rate of about 2.5% over 1990 levels; this is more than twice the 1.2% per year growth rate projected when the MOU was signed, and it was on this lower rate that a cap of 115 kilotonnes (kt) per year for nitrogen oxide (NOX) emissions was based.
Nevertheless, total NOX emissions from rail operations were held to 111.3 kt in 2003, well below the 115-kt cap and down by 7.4% from the previous year's total of 120.2 kt. At the same time, the railways hauled more than 323 billion revenue tonne-kilometres (RTK) of domestic and international traffic in 2003, up from 308.7 RTK in 2002; they also carried 57 million passengers. Overall, notes the report, fuel consumption in 2003 was a mere 1% higher than in 1990, while rail traffic in RTK increased by 29.36% during the same period.
NOX emissions per work unit in 2003 were 23.25% lower than in 1990, declining from 0.43 kilograms (kg) per RTK in 1990 to 0.33 kg/RTK in 2003. This achievement is attributed largely to the beneficial effect of introducing new locomotives meeting the stringent Tier 0 and Tier 1 emissions standards set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): 634 out of the total Canadian fleet of 2,893 locomotives are now EPA-compliant, notes the report. It adds that the emissions factor used to calculate NOX emitted from freight locomotives was revised downward for 2003, to reflect the growing number of locomotives in service that meet the EPA standards.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from rail operations overall were 5,640 kt in 2003, up from 5,548 kt in 2002. These emissions, however, have declined by nearly 6% since the peak year of 1997, although they are up by 1% over the 1990 base year. CO2 emissions per work unit have been reduced by 21.7%, from 21.21 kg/RTK in 1990 to 16.6 kg/RTK in 2003. The report points out that while the Canadian transportation sector accounts for approximately 25% of all Canadian CO2 emissions, emissions from rail operations contribute about 4% to total transportation-related CO2 emissions.
The program has built on significant restructuring of the industry during the nineties, and the creation of 40 new short line railways since 1996. They feed local and regional freight traffic to and from the long-haul, high-volume Class 1 railways that move traffic across Canada, across the border to the U.S., and to and from overseas markets.
Bruce Burrows, acting RAC president and CEO, said "the key to the industry's success has been a common objective, and a step-by-step plan to achieve clear targets."
Inter-city passenger traffic and rail commuter business in cities such as Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal and Ottawa are playing an increasingly important role in reducing pollution and road congestion. Although intercity passenger traffic decreased between 2002 and 2003, intercity train efficiency (expressed as average passenger kilometres per train kilometre) has risen by nearly 6% since 1990.
Commuter rail traffic, however, showed a healthy increase, from just over 50 million passengers in 2002 to nearly 53 million in 2003; this is up by 28.5% from 41 million passengers in 1997, the year the RAC began collecting commuter statistics. GO Transit, for example, carries the equivalent of 48 lanes of highway traffic into and out of downtown Toronto during rush hour every morning and afternoon. The overall fuel consumption for intercity and commuter rail operations was nearly 2% below 2002 levels.
The report outlines a number of emissions reduction initiatives, aside from engine technology improvements, being pursued by the rail industry. Co-production agreements negotiated between the railways are one example. One such agreement calls for track sharing in BC's Fraser canyon so that heavily loaded trains use less steep tracks while light loads travel over steeper tracks. The result is lower fuel consumption and reduced emissions on both railways.
Other efforts are focusing on fleet renewal (replacing older locomotives with newer, EPA-compliant models), train handling methods designed to reduce fuel consumption, rail lubrication and improved freight car productivity. Burrows also noted that "the railways, and their customers, have benefited from federal demonstration programs that have helped fund fuel reduction initiatives, such as electronic fuel injection and electronic stop-start systems that reduce the amount of time engines idle."