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NS’s Jamie Helmer Receives 2022 John H. Chafee Environmental Excellence Award

Written by Carolina Worrell, Senior Editor
2022 John H. Chafee Environmental Excellence Award Winner Jamie Helmer with (from left to right) NS's Tom Schnautz, Matt Gernaud, Josh Raglin and David Schoendorfer. (Photo Courtesy of AAR, via Twitter)

2022 John H. Chafee Environmental Excellence Award Winner Jamie Helmer with (from left to right) NS's Tom Schnautz, Matt Gernaud, Josh Raglin and David Schoendorfer. (Photo Courtesy of AAR, via Twitter)

The Association of American Railroads (AAR) announced on July 27 that it has named Norfolk Southern (NS) Director of Fuel Efficiency Jamie Helmer as recipient of the 2022 John H. Chafee Environmental Excellence Award.

NS Director of Fuel Efficiency Jamie Helmer

The annual award, which is named in honor of the late Rhode Island senator, a strong advocate for environmental causes and the eco-friendly benefits of rail transportation, recognizes a railroad employee who has “demonstrated the highest level of environmental stewardship in the previous year,” AAR says.

“Railroaders have always been the power that fuels our industry, and today we honor those pushing us toward an even more sustainable future,” said AAR President and CEO Ian Jefferies. “Our 2022 honoree, Jamie Helmer, has been a driving force behind NS’s innovative, top-to-bottom approach to reducing its footprint in the near-term and laying the groundwork for even greater advancements into the future. Congratulations to Jamie and all this year’s nominees whose passion and work is advancing environmental responsibility across the industry.”

According to NS, Helmer is “integral in driving key improvements in fuel sourcing, efficiency and conversions that move the railroad closer to its science-based target of reducing emissions intensity 42% by 2034.” Under her guidance, NS has experienced a 7% improvement in fuel efficiency, saving approximately 47 million gallons of fuel and avoiding more than 470,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions in the last two years, according to NS.

Part of NS’s efforts to reduce its carbon footprint include analyzing different fuel alternatives and low-carbon fuels and the long-term planning of the future locomotive energy source in place of ultra-low sulfur diesel. In May 2022, Helmer and a team from the sourcing, mechanical and fuel planning departments introduced biofuel at a major NS fueling location that, according to the railroad, is anticipated to increase the overall amount of biofuel used in 2022 up to millions of gallons annually.

In addition to Helmer, seven other railroaders were nominated for the 2022 John H. Chafee Award. Below are brief descriptions of the nominees.

Curtis Fernandez, Electrician–Facility Management, CN

Fernandez is currently working with CN’s environmental department to improve the stormwater management system for the facility communications building by incorporating native practices, naturalized sedimentation basins and overall native plantings. Implementing these types of naturalized systems, CN says, will aid not only in improved, reliable stormwater management and control, but also stormwater quality by helping to reduce sediment loading into a nearby trout stream. Fernandez has also worked to improve the quality of lighting at many CN facilities by installing fluorescent T-5 style fixtures. The T-5 fixture high bay lights use less wattage and more lumens than the historical high pressure sodium style lighting.

David Kosla, Senior Manager–Coals and Piers, CSX

While recently reviewing the railroad’s yard air handling systems, Kosla discovered that most of the systems were inefficiently designed and proposed a new system to CSX leaders that was ultimately adopted. A study determined that Kosla’s new systems have increased reliability and performance, reducing energy consumption by 30%, according to CSX. Specifically, the new systems are saving 5,600 megawatt-hour per year, translating in the avoidance of 3,920 tons of CO2 emissions on an annual basis. Kosla has also undertaken numerous projects to enhance waste management processes and mitigate potential spillage at CSX facilities.

Karen Monroy, Coordinator Community Relations & Social Responsibility, Kansas City Southern de Mexico (KCSM)

For the past 13 years, Monroy has led the Patio Limpio (Clean Yard) Program, which “fosters a culture of caring and respect for the environment within and around the 3,300-mile rail network,” according to KCSM. Each month at a different location on the KCSM network, the Social Responsibility team convenes volunteers to spend time picking up trash, debris and recyclable material from the rail yard. The Patio Limpio program, the railroad says, has had great results, allowing the company to keep the railroad tracks, yards and right-of-way (ROW) clean; improve and enhance coexistence of the railway and communities; adopt an environmental culture within the railroad; and enhance fellowship amongst employees.

Grace Olsen, General Director of Locomotive Engineering and Quality, Union Pacific (UP)

Olsen has been “instrumental in identifying and addressing risks associated with locomotive emissions, locomotive idling and remanufacturing of older locomotives,” according to UP. Olsen worked to identify and understand a recurring issue in California around locomotive emissions reporting to regulatory agencies. Olsen and her team dove into the data and to identify and correct mis-codings in the on-board meters to allow for more accurate reporting of locomotive emissions.

Devon Parson, Director of Equipment Engineering, Amtrak

Parson has led numerous technical projects that have improved environmental performance. Parson led Amtrak’s replacement of older locomotives with newer, more environmentally friendly tier-4 compliant diesel locomotives that have a modular design for the inclusion of future propulsion packages. Additionally, Parson conducted technical development efforts for alternative onboard power technologies for road and terminal locomotives, including further development of batteries and fuel cells.

Danny Rodriguez, Shop Superintendent II–Mechanical, BNSF

Rodriguez’s commitment to the environment and sustainability efforts has instilled a “culture of ownership and innovative solutions within his workforce,” BNSF says. His leadership skills have empowered his crews to implement various cost-effective waste minimization programs, such as the recycling of used oil, cardboard, scrap metal and wooden pallets. BNSF initiated a Sustainable Operations pilot test at the Barstow, Calif., facility where Rodriguez works based on Rodriguez’s longstanding environmental stewardship. As the facility lead, Rodriguez and his team have implemented multiple sustainable initiatives, including a closed-loop borate recycling program that reduces waste and encourages reuse; locomotive used oil recovery system so used oil can be sold to a local third-party for fuel use; and material management process to ensure that new materials are approved and used materials are recycled.

Dan Sabatka, Director of Projects and Public Works U.S., Canadian Pacific (CP)

Sabatka’s recent work focuses on reducing CP’s environmental footprint through reevaluating waste management practices associated with large scale yard refurbishment projects. To address these concerns, Sabatka has worked closely with CP’s environmental risk team to implement work practices to identify, segregate and incorporate a variety of materials for reuse on construction projects. Through these actions, truckloads of materials once hauled offsite to landfills are now recycled and reused locally for beneficial project purposes minimizing time, cost and environmental impacts. Sabatka is also helping to lead CP’s efforts to tackle climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from its operations. Sabatka and his team are piloting a new process in CP’s Bensenville Yard to evaluate new approaches to reduce energy consumption, mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and improve air quality for future railyard development.

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