Operators of passenger and freight locomotives in California will eventually need to move away from diesel locomotives and toward “zero-emission configurations,” according to a regulation that the California Air Resources Board approved Thursday.

CARB defines “zero-emission configurations” as a zero-emission locomotive or a zero-emission-capable locomotive, according to a fact sheet on the regulation. 

The new rules, which CARB says are aimed at reducing the emissions of locomotives operating within California, have two notable deadlines: Switch, industrial and passenger locomotives built in 2030 or after will need to operate in zero-emissions configurations, while locomotives built in 2035 for freight linehaul operations will need to comply with the zero-emissions configurations.

To help companies with the transition, they can set up and deposit monies into a spending account that will go toward purchasing or upgrading to cleaner locomotive technologies, CARB said. 

There is also some flexibility for companies needing to comply with the rules if technologies aren’t available or an emergency situation arises, CARB said. 

“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,” CARB Chair Liane Randolph said in a news release. 

The agency said emissions reductions from the new rules are estimated to equal or double the emissions from all passenger vehicles in California between now and 2050.

“With the new regulation, we are moving toward a future where all transportation operations in the state will be zero emissions,” Randolph said. 

In preparing the regulation, CARB had determined that locomotive emissions would be greater than emissions from trucks. This would be due to the shift toward zero-emissions trucks in California, per CARB regulations. CARB is seeking to accelerate a target requiring zero-emission vehicles in California’s trucking sector to 2036 from 2040. 

CARB’s regulation on locomotive emissions would affect Class I railroads Union Pacific (NYSE: UNP) and BNSF (NYSE: BRK.B). Both railroads have been involved in testing alternatively powered locomotives with state officials.

In response to CARB’s decision, UP told FreightWaves: “Union Pacific is deeply disappointed in the California Air Resources Board’s decision to impose burdensome regulations on the railroad industry, which fail to take into consideration that the technology and infrastructure needed for success do not exist.”

But “we are committed to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050 and are making significant strides in addressing criteria pollutants. For example, we are investing $1 billion to modernize locomotives, signed a $100 million deal to test battery-electric locomotives, and are testing biofuel blends to improve carbon and criteria pollutant emissions. We are dedicated to ongoing collaboration to find balanced solutions.”

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Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Joanna Marsh.

Related links:

California could phase out diesel locomotives

California expected to accelerate deadline for zero-emissions trucks

California intensifies efforts to slash railway emissions

Union Pacific spending over $100M on 20 battery-electric locomotives

BNSF, Wabtec put battery-electric locomotive to the test

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