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BNSF Debuts LNG Hostler Trucks to Reduce Emissions at Intermodal Facility

BNSF/Parsec LNG hostler trucks.

BNSF Railway Company (BNSF) has begun using low-emissions liquefied natural gas (LNG) hostler trucks to move containers at its Los Angeles Hobart Intermodal Facility, the busiest rail intermodal terminal in the US.

This use of LNG hostler trucks is part of a pilot program to test the vehicles for future use at select intermodal facilities, including the proposed Southern California International Gateway (SCIG) facility.

The natural gas hostlers, built by Kalmar Industries, will reduce NOx and PM emissions by 90% compared to standard off-road diesel tractors and represent another element in BNSF’s efforts to enhance the environmental advantages of rail transportation.

Rail transportation continues to be one of the greenest ways to move freight and BNSF is committed to lowering emissions and improving air quality in the Los Angles basin by testing environmentally friendly technology as it becomes available. This pilot is an extension of our commitment to improving air quality in Southern California.

—Mark Stehly, assistant vice president, environment and research development for BNSF

Parsec Inc., BNSF’s intermodal contract operator that oversees the day-to-day operations of Hobart, selected Clean Energy Inc. to provide the LNG for the hostlers.

Parsec acquired the 10 natural gas hostlers to operate at BNSF’s Hobart Yard in Commerce as part of a pilot program funded through a grant from the California Air Resources Board. The Carl Moyer Program provides grants to companies dedicated to using clean energy vehicles. On average, a natural gas-powered hostler costs approximately $49,000 more than one that runs on diesel fuel.

In Los Angeles, BNSF operates the only four LNG-powered switch engines in existence in the United States and a hybrid Green Goat switch engine. (Earlier post.)

BNSF is also currently using an LNG-fueled yard hostler at the Oakland International Gateway in Northern California. In 2006, VA Trucking acquired six LNG-fueled trucks to haul containers between the Port of Oakland’s  marine terminals and Burlington Northern Santa Fe’s (BNSF) rail yard at the Oakland International Gateway.



Stan Peterson

Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railroad is partially correct. Rail could be (but isn't today) a cleaner ground transport medium. And BNSF is doing fine exploratory and demonstration work.

But locomotive pollution cleanup is in its infancy. Most locomotives go entirely unregulated and have ZERO emissions controls. The RR do need lead time, but there is no technical reason that T2B5 or even T2B3 diesel regulations could not be met with today's control technology on Locomotives where size volume or cost is no restriction.

In stead of wasting time trying to twist the EPA rules for clean air into a pretzel to regulate a non-pollutant like CO2, the time and effort would be better spent implementing regulations for the rail locomotives ONLY a year or two behind the regulations falling on and already being met by their automotive brethren.

It is more important and better promulgating regulations for T2B3 conformance in 2011, for all new locomotives with a mandated retrofit program for completion by 2015. It is much better than fooling around with ZEV mandates for 10, 15 or 20% of all electric vehicles as aprt of the amrket mix. These vehicles are technically unready as they were in 1990; themandates will not be met, or CO2 regulation that the Courts will throw out, and perhaps the valid EPA clean air regulations as well, as as a part of them. Just like the proverbial "baby with the bath water".

You don't think that could happen? Look at the murderers and rapists walking the streets as a consequence of lawyerly "technicalities". When lawyers get to arguing, Reality and Justice has no part in any decision.

John Baldwin

we should run all trucks on LNG. It has the liquid benefits of diesel without the harmful NOX and particulates.

Also, the US is importing record volumes of LNG at present.....if this LNG can be used in road vehicles (without regasifying it) then that gives approx 20% lower CO2 on a well to wheel basis. Thats a big saving.

Its the fuel of the future, here today. Also, with bio-methane LNG (from landfill and anaerobic digesters) we can have zero CO2 transport. Hard to beat that!


The trouble is that methane-dominant gases are harder to liquify than propane, butane etc. Therefore I think compressed natural gas (CNG) will increasingly become a liquid fuels replacement. Perhaps the experiments in hydrogen storage will lead to lighter tanks. Apart from NG the gases that could be used include biomethane, DME, hythane and synthetic natural gas (SNG) from biomass. In 20 years time most of the semis left on the road could be running on some kind of CG.


According to the American Association of Railroads (AAR) document, Overview of U.S. Freight Railroads, "In 1980, railroads moved a ton of freight an average of 235 miles per gallon of fuel. In 2005, the comparable figure was 414 miles, a 76 percent improvement." I wonder how well trucks compare?




The Supreme Court recently ruled that the EPA has a duty to regulate CO2 emissions under existing Clean Air Act mandates, so I don't see how there is much room for courts or lawyers to get the well established NOx, SO2, PM and ozone rules thrown out.

If lawyers are known for splitting hairs, I don't see them as like to go entirely in the other direction and start over-generalizing.


If Stan Peterson was such an expert, you'd think he'd know that the easiest way to clean up locomotive emissions is just to electrify the system.  However, he's got an agenda which overrides whatever expertise he has.

Stan Peterson


Electrifying the RRs is a reasonable idea; I am heartily in favor. But it won't work over the entire US. As the RR's tracks get further from the electric generators, the loss to simple electrical resistance becomes prohibitive. As a single locomotive can emit pollutants in excess of a few thousand road vehicles combined, there is a lot of easy ground to make up, by starting in earnest to clean them up.

The Supremes said no such thing,as you state. They merely said that the EPA could consider regulating CO2, if the case can be built for it. Even then, the Supremes reserved to the Courts the right to decide at some later date, that what the EPA proposes to do is either correct or warranted. The issue is not decided; merely delayed.

Meanwhile the CARBites and the politicians push forward.

Increasingly the case, when the science shows that CO2 has little to do with the cause of warming, and the regulations have been put into effect, there is still the possibility to wreck the real and valid EPA pollution laws.

If a non pollutant like CO2 can be regulated how do you regulate water which can be thousands of times worse? The much ballyhooed FCV, which purports to be the golden dream of a Zero Emissions Vehicle, which emits "only water" is then a major polluter...

You can't even encourage and revert to "walking or biking", since YOUR BODY is a bigger emitter of both CO2 and water, as well.

Electrifying the RRs is a reasonable idea; I am heartily in favor. But it won't work over the entire US. As the RR's tracks get further from the electric generators, the loss to simple electrical resistance becomes prohibitive.
The usual method of addressing this is to feed the RR overhead lines from substations connected to the grid every few tens of miles.  It's what France and Japan have done to run the fastest passenger trains in the world.
As a single locomotive can emit pollutants in excess of a few thousand road vehicles combined, there is a lot of easy ground to make up, by starting in earnest to clean them up.
Which still won't get them to zero, won't eliminate the engine noise, and won't improve the acceleration, braking and energy recovery capabilities either.  Electrification does all of that.

BTW, here is a map of planned RR electrifications of the 1970's.  Chicago to Los Angeles is a pretty good stretch, no?  Do you think that we may have forgotten how to do the wiring in the last 30-odd years?


Showing maps of past projects that have apparently failed to come to fruition in 30 years does not exactly help you prove your point.

Ike Solem

Stan, it does turn out that fossil fuel generated CO2 is indeed a significant contributer to the current warming trend, as predicted by Arrhenius over a century ago. Our atmosphere is now a bit thicker and warmer than it was a hundred years ago, and the surface and the oceans are warming up as a result. The science is now focused on predicting how fast the climate will warm - and let's hope that the answer is slowly, not rapidly... though we'd better be prepared for the rapid climate response scenario, and get off fossil fuels as fast as possible.

As far as electrifying trains goes, it does seem that the long distance between centralized electricity generators and rail lines leads to unavoidable transmission losses. This is a good argument against massive, concentrated electricity generation projects located in remote areas, i.e. the huge gigawatt coal plants of the Southwest (which also dump massive amounts of sulfur, nitrogen oxides, arsenic and mercury into the atmosphere, along with fossil CO2). The advantages of a more distributed network of electricity generation are pretty obvious, and a distributed network can also take advantage of local, non-CO2 generating power sources: some areas have geothermal, some have a lot of wind, some have sun, some have abundant agricultural biomass, and some have a lot of natural gas resources. Natural gas also produces CO2, but is (1) far less polluting than coal and (2) produces more heat per CO2 emitted than any other hydrocarbon.

We should be moving toward a electrical generation system that replaces every huge fossil-fuel based GW generator with a hundred 10 MW-scale renewable electricity generators - this would also result in fewer transmission losses and more efficient use of electricity.



The Supremes said no such thing along the lines you suggest. They did not say that the EPA "could consider" regulating CO2. Rather, they stated that the EPA, at a minimum, HAD to consider regulating CO2.

True, the court did not order the EPA to immediately promulgate CO2 caps. The court merely required that the EPA consider the existing petition for regulation on its merits, and if the EPA felt like declining to regulate, such a denial had to squarely explain why the EPA thought CO2 is not harmful. If and when such a finding is issued, it is subject to further judicial review. And Stevens has left little doubt where he, and the apparent majority of the court, stand on this issue. His short exposition on the history of the climate change consensus suggests that he is convinced that a decision to decline to regulate, based on the conclusion that CO2 emissions are not harmful, could not be considered reasonable.

And your broader point still stands defeated: There is nothing in the history of this case that suggests that the court is going to throw out the regulation of other, more localized pollutants, just because some groups sought CO2 regulation. There is no evidence of a baby-and-the-bathwater problem. Even the supreme court dissent did not go there.


The Supreme Court ruled that the EPA had the AUTORITY to regulate CO2 as a pollutant. The case was not weather or not they should, but weather or not they could. There is a difference.


There is some confusion, as the Supreme Court DID order the EPA to re-evaluate weather or not it should regulate CO2 under the clean air act. That is a very different thing from telling the EPA that they had to regulate CO2 under said act.


Liquefaction of NG requires a lot of energy. About 5-10% of NG is combusted to deliver this energy on big industrial installations. On small installations this portion is bigger.

The main problem with LNG is that it should be kept at cryogenic temperature at all the time. Small fraction of LNG in cryogenic tank constantly boils-off, and when engine is stopped this portion should be vented or flared-off. LNG makes sense only on equipment working 24/7, which is the case with most port equipment, but not with on-road trucks.


Supreme Court did not rule that EPA should regulate CO2 emissions. SC ruled that EPA argument that CO2 is not covered in Clean Air Act is not valid, and EPA should investigate if CO2 is harmful emission or not, and present their arguments. Most likely that decision to regulate (or not) CO2 emissions will be made by US Congress, and not decided in courtroom.



Actually, the whole point of the recent Supreme Court case was to lay the groundwork for regulating CO2 through agency / judicial action, in case Congress and the President don't move on the issue. Saying that this is entirely a matter for the political branches was the position of the dissent, and explicitly rejected in the majority opinion. Rather, the case established that the Clean Air Act (1) gave the EPA authority to regulate CO2 and (2) required the EPA to respond to the already-filed request for regulation in a substantive manner.

Should the EPA respond by making explicit "findings" that CO2, as emitted by industrial processes, are not harmful, that move would be subject to a new court challenge under the Administrative Procedure Act. Given the tone of the majority opinion in this case, there seems to be little doubt that they would throw out a finding that industrial CO2 was harmless as being unsupported by the evidence, "arbitrary and capricious," or whatever other formula might be in vogue at the time.

I did overstate the facts in my first post, an error which I noted in my second post, in that the EPA is not yet compelled by the courts to issue actual CO2 caps.



Yes, you analysis is (unsurprisingly) precise. But the doubt remains: should extremely important issue to be decided by activist judges in court, based on laws not even remotely intended at the time of writing to regulate our entire life and entire economy? EPA is lacking legal authority to regulate whole energy sector (responsibility of DoE), agriculture (DoA), transportation (Highway Administration), taxation and international trade (Treasury and Congress), etc. Decision of such magnitude is better to be directly addressed by legislative branch, and preferably on national level.


k writes:

Showing maps of past projects that have apparently failed to come to fruition in 30 years does not exactly help you prove your point.
You're assuming that they were cancelled because they weren't feasible.  The feasibility is the least part of it; the major issues are the cost of fuel and the extra cost of property taxes for electrified track (freeways don't pay property taxes - maybe they ought to).  There's some price of oil vs. electricity which makes electrification pay, and we're probably getting there.


LNG does have a boil off problem. LNG tankers at sea run on the boil off. So the trucks would have to carry only the LNG that they will use within a short period of time.

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