News & Reviews News Wire California passes regulations calling for zero-emission locomotives

California passes regulations calling for zero-emission locomotives

By David Lassen | May 3, 2023

Rail industry says technology does not exist to meet state’s 2035 deadline for new engines

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Freight train with yellow locomotives in mountains
A Union Pacific train heads downgrade at Woodford on California’s Tehachapi Pass on Feb. 11, 2019. California has passed new regulations to replace diesels with zero-emission locomotives. David Lassen

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California has passed regulations requiring dramatic measures to reduce diesel locomotive emissions within the state — including all new locomotives to offer zero-emission operation by 2035 — although the rail industry says the rules exceed the technology needed to meet them.

In a move last week, the California Air Resources Board passed new rules that:

— Requires passenger, industrial, and switching locomotives built in 2030 or after to be able to operate in a zero-emission configuration while in the state. For line-haul freight locomotives, the deadline is 2035.

— Will only allow use of locomotive less than 23 years old as of 2030.

— Beginning in 2024, will not allow locomotives with automatic shutoff devices to idle longer than 30 minutes, except for reasons such as maintaining crew heating or air conditioning, or to maintain air brake pressure.

— Also beginning in 2024, will require locomotive operators in the state to create a trust fund to purchase, lease, or rent lower- or zero-emission locomotives. The more emissions a current locomotive creates, the more money must go into that fund.

— Set gradually increasing requirements for percentages of locomotive fleets in the state that must be Tier 4 or zero emission, with target dates in 2030, 2035, 2042 and 2047. By the last date, all equipment must be zero-emission.

“Locomotives are a key part of California’s transportation network, and it’s time that they are part of the solution to tackle pollution and clean our air,” said CARB Chair Liane Randolph in a press release. That release also said emissions from one train are worse than those of 400 heavy-duty trucks. “With the new regulation, we are moving toward a future where all transportation operations in the state will be zero emissions.”

But the leading candidates to replace diesel technology — battery-electric and hydrogen fuel-cell locomotives — are still in their infancy. The Association of American Railroads said in a statement to the Associated Press that “there is no clear path to zero-emissions locomotives,” adding, “Mandating that result ignores the complexity and interconnected nature of railroad operations and the reality of where zero emission locomotive technology and the supporting infrastructure stand.”

In a lengthy and pointed statement, the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association called the decision “an incredibly abrupt, dramatic, unrealistic, and counterproductive forced shift” of locomotives, and says the rule will place the financial viability of some small railroads at risk.

“While the spirit behind this rule is consistent with short lines’ environmental commitment, the rule itself is impractical, unworkable, and simply not feasible for most short lines,” said ALSRRA President Chuck Baker. “In addition, this rulemaking does not acknowledge the impact of the elimination of some short line rail service to Californians.”

Locomotives are not alone in facing new CARB regulations. A day after passing the locomotive regulations, the board banned the sale of new diesel trucks by 2036 and required all trucks to be zero emission by 2042. The CEO of the American Trucking Association, Chris Spear, told Reuters the state was “setting unrealistic targets and unachievable timelines that will undoubtedly lead to higher prices for the goods and services delivered to the state and fewer options for consumers.”

44 thoughts on “California passes regulations calling for zero-emission locomotives

  1. The CARB brain trust stated that one trains emissions is worse than 400 Heavy Duty trucks. It would take FAR MORE
    trucks than that to haul all the freight on one decent length train. Do the math. Trains use FAR LESS fuel to move that amount of tonnage than trucks ever would plus less highway wear and tear from trucks. Nothing like idiotic “statistics” from unelected Bureaucrats.

    1. You’re right, Nicholas. This sort of thing is why the term “bureaucrap” was invented, and it applies to both the things these cretins say and to the cretins themselves.

  2. Here is an idea: since many freight airlines ply the west coast and are competitors to rail, why are not ALL modes required to be emission free? Seems patently discriminatory to not include all transportation modes, rather than single out just one. Also, how much will emissions be reduced by this action? All costs will be paid by us, not the corporations nor government, but for what benefit? It is insulting for Americans to be ruled by dictate.

  3. In 1923, NY State mandated that all RR’s in NY City be electrified by 1926.

    The result? On October 22, 1925, CNJ 1000 went into service at CNJ’s Bronx Terminal. It was the first successful diesel-electric locomotive. More followed.

  4. I think CARB should show the world that a 4400HP 12cyl, zero emissions diesel locomotive can be built before it puts out regulations that may actually turn out to be pie in the sky. Although Hydrogen does peak my interest. The battery locomotive is a dumb idea. Recharging batteries is a slow. Imagine a battery locomotive shorting out and catching fire in a tunnel.
    Electrifying the entire rail system in the state would require subsidies for the short lines to build to a minimum of a trolley system like the Iowa Traction has. What about tunnel clearances with double stacks going thru them with tight clearances as it is. Lets expand the discussion beyond the loco technology alone. What about the entire infrastructure, and how to reliably power it 24/7.

  5. All these great ideas, who the heck is going to pay for them. The companies may sign the check, but the money will come from all of us eventually.

  6. First, RR’s could and did generate their own power. Early in the 20th Century it became cheaper to buy power from commercial plants. Moreover, the power companies would become good coal customers.

    Amtrak and SEPTA have commercial power lines on their catenary poles aling with RR transmission and traction power. You can tell: commercial AC lines have three wires while RR lines have two. Much of Amtrak’s power is emission free, from the Safe Harbor dam, near Harrisburg.

  7. There are some people commenting on here that know nothing about California law and how the CARB works, like Mr. Landey(I use the term Mr. loosely here). First, it is the mandate of CARB to set emmission requirements in the State of California…period, that is their job, not the State legislature or anyone else.

    Second, if it wasn’t for CARB national fuel standards wouldn’t be at the level they are today…though whether or not regulating fuel standards for interstate commerce will withstand a lawsuit I won’t say.

    Third, Frito-Lay company and large trucking company have already placed orders with Tesla for the Tesla semi – which already runs in the state as we speak. So saying there’s no viable alternative to cumbustion engines for OTR trucks is already patently wrong.

    Forth, there’s a very simple solution to both the problem with expanding the transmission lines and electrifying the mainlines in this state. Cooperation between the Railroads and the State CESO that would allow new high voltage transmission lines along the railroad right of way in exchange for them electrifying all their mainlines within the borders…that kills two birds with one stone. As for the shortlines and regionals…shortlines should be able to get away with battery powered units like the Progress Rail Joule…regionals on the other hand, I’m not sure what they could use, but I’m sure there are solutions out there…like the hydrogen units that CP is testing.

    Fifth, stop being so negative, and remember, California is now the FOURTH LARGEST economy in the world…it will take a huge hit to drop us back down to Fifth place.

    1. Okay, Gerald, —- your okay with rule by administrative bureaucracy. I’m not.

      I won’t get down in the mud with you, just to say this. In Wisconsin, where I live and vote, administrative rules can be overturned by vote of the state legislature. Seems that California is more on the North Korea level of government.

  8. All our posters here are ignoring one big item. If electrification occurs because of these regulations the RRs can build their own generating plants. At worse just much larger diesels that will run at constant speed and be more fuel efficient than present locos. So UP and BNSF could quit buying and tier 4 locos which they hate and instead buy more fuel-efficient ground-based diesel engines to generate the electricity needed for CAT. less fuel needed overall even with the low 25% regeneration recovery.

    I would expect BNSF & UP could establish a power management control location that could well manage power demand that would reduce total KW needed as compared to individual locos required to serve California.

    What other sources of KWs that could be build being more renewable. Also the GE turbine recuperative systems can get up to 50% energy recovery which could be standby for peak demand.

    1. What source says a Prius Hybrid will be emission neutral in 10 years. Have a friend who’s wife is an environmental compliance officer dealing with cleanups at various mining sites. She says that just in the mining of lithium for the batteries for hybrid/full electric vehicles takes up 4 years of that emission cycle. You still have to “process” the lithium as well as mine and process all the other materials used to make the batteries. Along the way you have to mine or recycle the metal used in making the vehicle. Let’s NOT forget that more than 40% of the parts used in cars made these days are plastic, which is made from oil. In the end, she told me that to be emission neutral is more like 25-27 years. She said that you have to factor in replacement batteries for the vehicles (present technology battery life is 10-12 years at most).

      Lastly a Prius costs ruffly $30,000. In 10 years it’s worth after depreciation will be no more that $10,000 (probably less). Replacing batteries will cost much more (about $14,000 as of now) than the vehicle is worth.

  9. There is nothing that is zero emissions. When you build the wind mills and all the parts for them. It would take years for one wind mill to be truly “zero” or emissions neutral. When all manufacturing pollution for locomotive, car, truck, bus or even electricity is considered NOTHING is emission free. California already has rolling black outs in summer from lack of power supply, whole thing sounds crazy. Being involved in the automotive world and just for comparison, It takes 10 years for a Toyota Prius Hybrid to be emission neutral.

  10. I have a great idea. Lets form a consortium and buy real estate on the California border in Oregon, Nevada and Arizona and build huge storage yards for all the freight that will be dropped off with destination in California.The Class 1 railroads can use these yards via the tracks that already exist and California will have to pay daily storage on everything with California destinations which no longer can be delivered because of this zero emissions mandate. Won’t have to worry about overseas freight because ports in Mexico, Oregon and Washington and British Columbia will be getting all the import business which should make all the longshoremen in California to have to move to these other areas because their jobs will be cut by 95% or more and I am sure these other locales will welcome them with open arms. Life will go on as usual in the rest of the country while California enjoys the massive poverty and anarchy caused by the “green wave” which will force most all national and international businesses out of the state and with that the resultant catastrophic unemployment …

    Look folks, this is all tongue in cheek. Some bureaucratic pipsqueak is just trying to get some attention in order to maintain her following. It could happen some day when the technology becomes available, but this isn’t going to happen for 50 years or more. My audacious proposal has as much a chance of becoming reality as this fools errand. and when the deadlines come, there will be endless moving out of enforcement dates because popping off never created any technology and this won’t either…

  11. it’s true that california wants to go to zero emissions but come on tier 4 diesel locomotives and the other tier diesel locomotives can run in california

  12. I have to laugh at the “can’t do it”/”it can’t be done” speculation that pervades here when it comes to environmental issues. Well we better hope it can succeed for the sake of YOUR children & grandchildren. I don’t even have children but sometimes I get the feeling I think about their future more than their parents!

  13. “— Also beginning in 2024, will require locomotive operators in the state to create a trust fund to purchase, lease, or rent lower- or zero-emission locomotives. The more emissions a current locomotive creates, the more money must go into that fund.”

    A nice little way of saying “extortion”.

    This just in. Beginning in 2024 all new locomotives in California will be required to be dual powered. They will be equipped with solar panels on the roofs, and will also be equipped with pop up wind turbines in the event the sun isn’t shining that day.

  14. So by 2035, the mandate for the railroads to be “Zero-emission” and 2042 (for trucks), assuming this truly deranged mandate is enforced, the railroad and trucking industry will have completed exited California, along with the large portion of their (remaining) sane population. I’m sure the dopey, delusional bureaucrats at ‘CARB’ have no clue as to how this mandate is going to actually work (nor do they care ….).

    Of course, with the “death-by-a-thousand cuts’ that California seems to be currently experiencing (see the announcement yesterday that Nordstrom is closing its downtown San Francisco flagship store and Nordstrom ‘Rack’ store there), maybe there will be so little economic activity left in California that there won’t be a need for anymore trucks and/or railroads there.

    Heavy industry has been leaving California for the last (almost) 50-years, and maybe completely gone there now (?). As an example, unless I’m mistaken, with Tesla having opened a new Tesla plant in Texas, there are no more automobile factories in California (there used to be 2-3 major auto plants in Southern California and two in northern CA /Bay-area). Those were major sources of LOTS of business for the railroads.

    As per Mr. Landey and Mr. Crowe’s remarks above, I would say ‘amen’ and only amend them slightly perhaps to state we’re either ruled by: ‘Sub-idiots’, ‘Full-blown idiots’ or “Sub/Full-Blown/Delusional idiots” –

    1. Tesla still makes cars at the Fremont plant and has no plans of shutting that down, it’s where they make the Series S and Y, the Texas plant is for trucks and the Cybertruck and some other Tesla model.

    2. Thank you, Gerald, I stand corrected! One car plant remaining in California now.

  15. I am a Canadian and I used to look at the USA as a country that could do anything technological that it wanted to do. Sadly, that is no longer the case.
    Mainline electrification is well known technology and much of the freight mainline connecting the west coast container ports to the rest of the country could be electrified. Yes, it will cost money to install catenary and power supplies but the operating cost will drop as electricity is cheaper than diesel fuel and electric locomotives need less maintenance.
    Renewable and nuclear power can deliver all the electricity required to move completely away from diesel fuel. Large battery banks can store energy overnight and hydrogen based systems can provide storage for longer periods.
    In some technologies the USA is behind China. The most advanced batteries come from Chinese companies like CATL. Better battery technology will help Chinese automobile companies like BYD and XPeng expand across the world. More trade with a country means more influence and power for China.
    The world is changing and needs new ideas and ways of doing things. For example, in computers Microsoft and Apple came from nothing. The management of the old computer companies like IBM, Digital, Tandem, Univac, Control Data, NCR, Burroughs and Honeywell couldn’t see the way forward with personal computers. Many are gone and others are dramatically reduced in size and importance.
    Spacex, Musk’s rocket company, has taken over a large proportion of the global satellite launch business by developing and building a reusable rocket. Fortunately, nobody blocked his efforts by protecting Boeing and others.
    Tesla spent billions to construct a very large factory in Texas to build their electric cars and trucks. A huge investment, thousands of new jobs and definite boost for the Texas economy yet Texans cannot take delivery of a new Tesla in the state. The State government is protecting the car dealers. If Tesla wants to sell to Texans they have to play the dying dealership game.
    When it comes to electrifying railways, you can believe the FUD spread by industry organizations. Alternatively, you can look to other parts of the world for leadership and technology while you rebuild the kind of USA that won the Second World War and the Cold War.

    1. Well, Roger, I’d agree with you if nuclear were part of the mix. It isn’t. The “greens” think they can power the world with wind and solar. Which is beyond ridiculous.

  16. I’d just like to remind the multitudes here that all the industry statements sound like they were copied and pasted from the auto industry reactions to new CARB regulations at every turn in the past 55 years or so.

    Looking at how long it took to environmentally clear, bid, and build the Caltrain electrification I’m skeptical anything like that is going to happen, but let’s see how battery integration and hydrogen propulsion/infrastructure gets jolted in the next couple of years before we conclude the rail industry in California is destined for collapse.

  17. At some point this turns into ‘interference with interstate commerce’ and federal intercession becomes necessary.

  18. Was there any plans for the airline industry. Anything about electrifying Air Force One.? If JB was serious this should be a top priority.

  19. The huge advantage of fossil fuels is their very high energy content by weight and volume (why long distance air travel without fossil fuels is a total fantasy). I’ve read that an electric charging truckstop for trucks would require its own electric substation as so much electricity would be required to ‘refuel’ all those trucks. The advantage of being a green advocate is that you don’t have to have any concerns for reality.

    1. Our military is going all-electric. Imagine those charging stations for a tank regiment (and supporting motor vehicles) in a combat zone!

      Fact is, we’re governed by sub-idiots and it gets worse by the day.

    2. ” The advantage of being a green advocate is that you don’t have to have any concerns for reality.”

      Or provide any salient solutions… The total green crowd are totally in on the building of these great opportunities, as long as they don’t have to give up their SUV’s and Cabins in the mountains. And oh yeah, no ugly windmills in their back yards! And what about the off-gassing of methane by cows? Is this lady going to demand that California’s Dairy industry must also go zero emissions along with all the wastewater and sewage treatment plants? That ought to go over well with all the Hollywood environmentalists.

  20. Ah, the arrogance. That pop you just heard is the CARB board shooting another bullet in the state’s foot. It’s great to dream – but reality has to be inserted into any plan. Is CARB ready to do a 90/10 match for the railroads to string catenary from Yuma/Needles/Reno/Klamath Falls to the coast and everywhere in between? Good luck.

  21. How about zero emission locomotives drawing power from overhead catenary? I’ve heard this invention works in places like Russia and China.

    1. Have to agree, I am a supporter of election.
      However, what about generation capacity, especially in California and with the electrified of personal transportation is there or will there be enough? And then what about the entire N/A rail system.
      Gas plants and SMR’s could help out but both get bad raps from environmentalists and NIMBY’s.
      Where I live they are already concerned and are wanting to do the gas plant thing and already the before mentioned are already screaming. There is such a concern that they are introducing an ultra low KW offering of 2.9 cents overnight (12-7). And then there’s the grid, distribution and house service.
      This all needs to be addressed first, not after.

  22. I might add that they banned the sale of diesel trucks after 2035 and any made prior have to be off the road 10 years later.

    1. Can hardly wait to see those electric trucks keeping I-80 open over Donner Pass.

  23. The port expansion in Canada is looking better every day with this announcement.

    It’s California’s right to do as they please, but when it accelerates the population to exit, they will lower pollution in a different way. No one left.

  24. A number of adjectives have been applied to this latest batch of regulations, such as “unworkable,” “unrealistic” and “impractical.” Let’s add “stupid” to the list. Perhaps the government of California should be put on a hyper-strict Atkins diet: no CARB.

    1. Melvin, clever and entertaining last sentence, the highlight of my morning at 6:03 AM Central Daylight Time!

      I’ll add another adjective: unconstitutional. The California legislature hasn’t passed such a law. Yet another rule-by-fiat by dictator-Gov. Gavin Newsome. Who does he think he is? Justin Trudeau?

    2. Charles, worse than an elected governor making such an outlandish decree (He did not.), but it was made by an unelected board of bureaucrats, who have neither operated a railroad locomotive, or driven a truck.

      They want everything electric, and at the same time only solar, wind, or small hydro-electric to generate electricity so that when the power is not available you can limit our movements. (Hmm?)

  25. Too bad the railroads can’t just pick up their tracks and trains and get the hell out of California, as so many citizens who can are doing, as the state descends into darkness, step by step.

    1. Yup…but if 2/3 of the shortlines bail out, there will be a lot less rail activity in California for the big guys. There, that should help immensely, including the sudden rise in unemployment.

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