Special Report: Electrifying Freight Rail

Special Report: Electrifying Freight Rail

BNSF Eyes Route to Electric Trains
* Listen to an interview with Rose
* Challenges Loom Over Electric Ideas
* Electric Freight Rail Calls for New-Era Engines
* FERC Talks Up Rail
* Obama Aide Saw HSR-Freight Links
* Former FRA Chief Sees Rail Overhaul
* Midwest Plan Offers Rail Power Potential
* Video: Carl Dombek on Rail Electrification

Interest is growing in using electricity to power freight railroads
, a development that would have enormous implications for the economics and environmental impact of rail operations.

What was once just a futuristic vision of electrified trains replacing diesel locomotives with their high fuel costs and exhaust issues is getting more serious attention (Go to BNSF Eyes Route To Electric Trains and listen to an audio clip from an interview with BNSF Railway Chairman, President and CEO Matthew K. Rose).

It could take years to build the infrastructure and new types of train equipment to implement the strategy, and tens of billions of dollars (Go to Challenges Loom Over Electric Ideas and Electric Freight Rail Calls for New-Era Engines).

But a number of officials inside and out of the freight rail industry are discussing it now, and wondering if the time has arrived to start moving the country in this direction (Go to FERC Talks Up Rail).

In this special feature section, The Journal of Commerce presents a series of Web articles by Associate Editor John D. Boyd on this issue, including interviews with people who are talking up the idea and others who might implement it. The concept is in its early stages, but has the potential to develop quickly. If it does, it could make fundamental changes in the North American freight system.

Part of the interest in electrified freight rail is linked to the sharp push by the Obama administration to build high-speed rail passenger service in a number of key corridors outside the traditional Northeastern commuter lanes. (Go to Obama Aide Saw HSR-Freight Links).

Some advocates say the fastest way to get these high-speed rail trains up and running is to negotiate with freight lines to use their rights of way, rather than spend vast sums and years of study and permitting to carve out entirely new track corridors. (Go to  Former FRA Chief Sees Rail Overhaul; Read Rose’s congressional testimony on passenger high-speed rail).

Part of the interest is generated by the need to upgrade the nation’s electrical transmission grid by laying new power lines. This fits with the burgeoning wind farms in the High Plains, Midwest and Southwest that need lines to efficiently send their energy across the country (Go to Midwest Plan Offers Rail Power Potential; See a video interview on rail electrification with MISO’s Carl R. Dombek).

Some officials say one of the fastest ways to lay power lines is in existing freight rail corridors that connect all cities. Some railroads already hope to attract those lines, both as a new revenue source and possibly a way to bring electrical power to their tracks.

It is not clear when these ideas will move off the drawing board and start to affect railroads and their shipper customers. Yet is quite clear that efforts are now under way to convert some futuristic concepts into real projects that could ultimately benefit railroads, their customers and consumers.

It may even help railroads attract more freight from environmentally savvy shippers, especially if environmental legislation makes the use of greener supply chain operators even more attractive.

How might electrification of the freight railroads change the overall freight system? How might it affect rail costs and pricing? Speed of delivery? Give us your views by commenting on these stories online, or send an email to John D. Boyd at jboyd@joc.com.