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All Aboard! Freight Rail Giant Testing Natural Gas-Powered Locomotives

Just how flexible is natural gas? Beyond powering your home heating systems, daily commute vehicles, long-haul trucks and ships at sea, America's own abundant natural gas is now being tested on the rail tracks. BNSF Railway Co., the largest railroad in the U.S. and a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway, will begin testing liquefied natural gas (LNG) as a locomotive fuel.

Matthew Rose, BNSF's Chairman and CEO, announced the plans at CERAWeek earlier this year. "The use of liquefied natural gas as an alternative fuel is a potential transformational change for our railroad and for our industry… potentially reducing fuel costs and greenhouse gas emissions, thereby providing environmental and energy security benefits to our nation."

Businesses and municipal fleets across the country have already found enormous cost savings by converting their vehicles to natural gas, and the same will soon be said for the railroads.

According to Dow Jones Newswires, BNSF estimates that, after the Navy, it is the second largest consumer of diesel in the U.S. With diesel prices at nearly $4 per gallon compared to just over $2 per gallon for large volume LNG users, the cost savings are game-changing.

Preliminary tests by General Electric and Caterpillar, which are developing the locomotives, indicate that trains powered by natural gas could also travel farther between refueling and have equivalent towing power to diesel.  And because trains, like fleet vehicles, travel on fixed routes, building a fueling infrastructure for freight rail makes good economic sense.

Beyond the corporate balance sheet, using natural gas is significantly better for our nation’s air quality than conventional alternatives, with fewer nitrogen oxide (NOx) and sulfur dioxide (Sox) emissions and no diesel particulates.

Thanks to decisions by BNSF and other industrial users to power with natural gas, the journey to a cleaner energy future may be just down the tracks. Think about it.


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