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Minnesota Development Authority Evaluating Biodiesel for New Commuter Rail System

The Northstar Corridor Development Authority (NCDA) in Minnesota is studying the feasibility of using biodiesel for operations of the proposed Northstar Commuter Rail service.

The Prairie Line in Redwood County, Minnesota, a short-line railroad, is using a B2 blend in its engines.

The NCDA study will determine whether biodiesel can meet the operating standards while maintaining the financial viability of the Northstar project within Federal Transit Administration (FTA) requirements.

Northstar must meet the cost-effectiveness standard required by the Federal Transit Administration, so we can only pursue biodiesel use to the extent the project continues to meet the FTA’s criteria.

—Tim Yantos, NCDA executive director

Project staff will examine the feasibility of biodiesel use based on the following:

  • Impact on the capital and operating costs

  • Fuel efficiency

  • Availability of locomotive manufacturing

  • Impact on environmental emissions

  • Federal Transit Administration requirements

The report should be submitted by late spring.


The Northstar Corridor is an 82-mile transportation corridor which runs along highways 10 & 94 from downtown Minneapolis to the St. Cloud/Rice area. The Highway 10/Northstar Corridor is already one of the most congested corridors in Minnesota, and is still the fastest growing corridor in the state, and the third-fastest growing in the country, according to census figures released in October 2002.

The initial phase of the commuter rail project (route map to the right) will service a 40-mile line with 6 stations and an estimated daily ridership of 5,600 trips per day. With state funding this year, Northstar commuter rail will be fully operational within four years.

Such projects are important tools for reducing auto travel, fuel consumption and emissions growth in urban corridors. So much the better if it uses biodiesel.

It will be interesting to see what type of drive system the corridor adopts. Most commuter rail systems in the US seem to use a traditional locomotive pushing a string of coach cars. This is the type of configuration that was involved in the horrendous rail crash in Glendale a short time ago.

An alternative that has been popular in Europe for some time, and is beginning to appear in some new commuter rail projects in the US, is the Diesel Multiple Unit, or DMU. DMUs combine the diesel powertrain with the passenger coach—it is a self-propelled rail car.

Some recent studies have shown that DMUs can dramatically improve fuel efficiency. While a conventional locomotive-hauled commuter train may consume 2–3 gallons per mile, a comparable DMU will only consume ½ gallon per mile—in other words, the DMU decreases fuel consumption by about a factor of 4.

DMUs are under evaluation in California, Florida and North Carolina.

A DMU/biodiesel solution sounds like a good way to contribute even more to the fuel efficiency and environmental impact of commuter rail sytems.




Hi, I am a high school student doing an economics project on the Northstar Commuter rail and I can't find any info beyond your site on what the train will rum off of for fuel. Could you help me? thanks!

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