On the Right Track? Transport Canada Proposes Regulating Locomotive Emissions


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By Fiona Wren, EPt

In 2013, transportation was responsible for 56% of Canada’s nitrous oxide emissions (NOx), and of that amount, rail transportation accounted for 11.1%. It makes sense, then, that Environment and Climate Change Canada would look at emissions reduction as part of their strategy to reduce GHG levels by 17% below those of 2005 by 2020.

The government first drafted Canada’s Action Plan in 2012, in response to a call to reduce emissions from domestic and international aviation. Since that time, the government has also made moves to reduce emissions for heavy and light-duty vehicles. The emissions reduction strategy also includes restrictions on emissions from marine vessels (safety inspectors began testing ship fuel for sulphur content just this month).

Transport Canada’s announcement in June that rail regulations will change this September achieves several things: it brings Canadian regulations in line with those of the U.S.; it has the potential to reduce overall emissions by as much as 10%; and it can help improve health and safety for Canadians living near railway lines and rail yards. The government estimates the cost savings for healthcare and the environment could amount to $245 million.

Willing partners

The good news is that since 1995, rail companies in Canada have been working with the government to reduce emissions voluntarily. The first agreements were in effect from 1995 to 2005, and managed to significantly reduce nitrogen oxide emissions even as railway activity grew.

As a result of their voluntary efforts, the rail transport industry expects to see little or no impact from the new regulations — essentially, they’ve already been operating in accordance with the new guidelines. In fact, making the emissions reduction official, and bringing our standards in line with the U.S., offers several benefits.

Across the border

Revising Canada’s rail emissions guidelines to meet those of the United States makes sense on several levels. The industries in the two countries are closely integrated, as cargo moves across borders regularly. Both industries are also integrated in several key ways, including rail gauge. With similar emissions, Canadian railways now have more flexibility to work with American rail companies to hand off cars and locomotives, ensuring maximum efficiency for every journey.

The costs

While Canadian Pacific Railway and Canadian National Railway Co. already operate extensively in the United States, and as a result operate locomotives that run to U.S. standards — standards most locomotives operating in Canada also meet. For those how still need to upgrade equipment, the government has not specified technology or techniques for emissions reduction (beyond limiting locomotive idle-time to under 30 minutes and conducting regular emissions tests). For some, the improvements may even lead to fuel efficiency, as they reportedly have for CN, who boasts “a 36 percent improvement in fuel and carbon efficiency in the last 20 years.

At a time when rail shipments in North America are down by 10%, it’s possible any savings might be good news for the industry. But will they help make strides towards halting global warming? Climate Change Canada thinks so.

What’s your take on the new emissions regulations for the rail industry? Send us your comments at info@eco.ca.

CORRECTION: An earlier version incorrectly stated that transportation was responsible for 56% of Canada’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. That number actually reflects nitrous oxide (NOx). This version has been updated.

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