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In 2020 and Beyond, Freight and Passenger Rail Rely on Diesel

"From regional short line freight service to coast to coast passenger trains, the nation’s railroads depend on diesel power.  With increasing investments in new technology diesel engines and repowering and replacement of existing engines, railroads are poised for achieving greater service and efficiency goals.

“Diesel has long been the technology of choice for moving people and goods by rail thanks to diesel’s proven technology, efficiency, durability reliability and now near-zero emissions,” said Allen Schaeffer, executive director of the Diesel Technology Forum, an educational association based near Washington, DC.

According to the latest available data from the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS), at the end of 2018 just over 26,000 freight locomotives were in operation in the U.S., and 431 passenger rail locomotives.  With the exception of a few passenger rail lines that are electrified (Amtrak’s Northeast corridor and Harrisburg, PA line), the remainder of passenger rail and all of freight rail in the U.S. is diesel-powered.

“The efficiency of diesel technology over other fuel types is well known, but in freight rail, it’s taken to a whole new level,” noted Schaeffer.  “U.S. freight railroads can, on average, move one ton of freight more than 470 miles per gallon of diesel fuel, thanks to the low rolling resistance of steel wheels coupled together with the energy efficiency of the diesel locomotive.  According to the Association of American Railroads the nation’s 64 freight railroads transit a network of nearly 137,000 freight rail miles. In 2018, U.S. Class I railroads moved 1.5 million carloads of food products, 1.5 million carloads of grain and other farm products, 1.2 million carloads of lumber and paper products, 2.4 million carloads of chemicals, and 1.8 million carloads of motor vehicles and parts."

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