Wake up daily to our latest coverage of business done better, directly in your inbox.


Get your weekly dose of analysis on rising corporate activism.

Select Newsletter

By signing up you agree to our privacy policy. You can opt out anytime.

Harry Stevens headshot

Union Pacific Delivers Cargo Load of Innovation to Meet EPA Emissions Standards

Union Pacific Corporation, the company that owns and operates the iconic Union Pacific Railroad, has added a new locomotive to its ultra low-emission diesel fleet at the Chicago rail yard.  With the addition of the new locomotive, Union Pacific has now unveiled seven of the so-called "Genset" (short for generator-set) switcher locomotives in Chicago.

The company began development of the Genset locomotive in 2002, and has now deployed 172 of the ultra-low-emission locomotives in California, Texas and the Chicago area.

"Union Pacific is committed to preserving our environment by reducing emissions to help improve air quality and conserve fuel," said Bob Turner, senior vice president of corporate relations at Union Pacific.

The 2,000-horsepower locomotives are powered by three engines that reduce emissions of oxides of nitrogen (NOx) by 80 percent and particulate matter (PM) by 90 percent, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions by up to 37 percent compared to older switching locomotives.

In the last year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been implementing increasingly exacting emissions standards to spur upgrades in emissions technology across the railroad industry, and honored Union Pacific with its Clean Air Excellence for developing the Genset technology.

In 2008, the EPA introduced new “Tier 3” emissions standards for railway locomotives, which mandated steep cuts in PM and NOx emissions. The EPA estimates that the regulation produced annual health benefits between $8.4 billion and $12 billion and will prevent 1,400 premature deaths by 2030.

Union Pacific's Genset locomotives meet the EPA's Tier 3 standards, and more than 80 percent of Union Pacific's estimated 8,200 locomotives are certified under EPA Tier 0, Tier 1, Tier 2 or Tier 3 emissions standards.

Similarly, BNSF, which operates the second-largest freight railroad network in North America behind Union Pacific, operates a fleet of 6,100 unit active locomotives, 84 percent of which are certified to US EPA Tier 0, Tier 1, Tier 2, or Tier 3 emissions standards.

EPA's upcoming Tier 4 standards for railway locomotives will require exhaust gas after treatment technologies as well as additional reductions in NOx and PM emissions, encouraging Union Pacific and its industry peers to continue to develop innovative emissions technology.

Tom Lange, Union Pacific's director of corporate communications, provided TriplePundit with an impressive list of emissions-reducing technological innovations the company has in the pipeline.

In August, Union Pacific unveiled an advanced experimental locomotive at its yard in Roseville, Calif. The locomotive is testing three emissions-reducing technologies including exhaust gas recirculation, diesel oxidation catalysts, and diesel particulate filters. The company's engineers are working to reduce the engine size of their standard freight locomotive engines to create the space necessary to install these new technologies.

The company has also applied for a patent on an aerodynamic wedge that will reduce wind drag on freight trains with the ultimate goals to improve fuel efficiencies and reduce emissions. The aerodynamic wedge is currently being tested on double stack intermodal trains, which "takes as many as 300 trucks off the highway," according to Mr. Lange.

Lubrication for wheels and rails, friction modifiers and other research and development efforts “are in their early stages, so it is premature to talk about them at this stage," adds Mr. Lange, "but it is worth noting that Union Pacific can move one ton of freight nearly 500 miles on a single gallon of diesel fuel. That's like a standard midsize car getting 200 mpg. It's also a 25 percent fuel-efficiency improvement over the last 10 years."

At this rapid pace of innovation, Union Pacific appears poised to meet EPA's Tier 4 standards when they become effective in 2015.

Harry Stevens headshotHarry Stevens

Harry Stevens is a freelance reporter covering climate change, corporate social responsibility, social enterprise, and sustainable finance. Harry has contributed to several media outlets, including Justmeans, GreenBiz, TriplePundit, and Sustainablog. You can follow Harry on Twitter: @Harry_Stevens

Read more stories by Harry Stevens

More stories from Leadership & Transparency