Wabtec President and CEO Rafael Santana announced the establishment of a research institute in partnership with Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) and Genesee & Wyoming (G&W), during a recent House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing.
The aim of the March 17 hearing was to explore “private-sector actions to develop and implement solutions to climate change” with a focus on surface transportation. Also providing testimony were leaders of engineering firms AECOM and WSP USA, among others.
The new Freight Rail Innovation Institute (FRII), Santana told the Committee, would develop and deploy advanced rail propulsion, logistics and safety technologies. “Within the next nine years, we are committed to developing the technology to enable the expansion of freight rail utilization, accelerating the reduction of GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions with battery- and hydrogen-powered locomotives, and enabling safer trains,” he testified. Pursuing those initiatives, Santana added, would lead to the creation of “250,000 direct, indirect and induced jobs spurred by the transportation and manufacturing sectors.”
He called on Congress to collaborate with the partners “to create, coordinate and co-fund” the institute, which would “send a message to the entire transportation industry that together, the private and public sectors can help achieve the nation’s vision of a competitive and sustainable American freight transportation network.”
Wabtec’s goal, Santana said, is to “develop the next generation of zero-emission locomotives. Wabtec has a clear path to power new locomotives—and repower existing locomotives—with batteries, hydrogen internal combustion engines, and hydrogen fuel cells.” The Pittsburgh, Pa.-based company—which traces its roots to inventor George Westinghouse, whose automatic air brake was introduced in the pages of Railway Age in the 19th century—is working with BNSF and the California Air Resources Board to test its battery-electric locomotive, he testified.
“To date, FLXdrive has run over 10,000 miles and delivered an average of 10% reduction in fuel consumption across the train,” Santana said of the revenue service test between Barstow and Stockton, Calif. “This is the equivalent of 5,000 gallons of diesel fuel saved and approximately 50 tons of CO2 emissions reduced. At 6 MWhrs, we have an opportunity to further reduce fuel consumption and emissions by up to 30%.” Wabtec plans to commercialize the locomotive “in the near future,” he added.
The company is also “researching applicability of battery hybrid and hydrogen combustion engines” and hopes to begin development and testing “quickly,” Santana said. “These new technologies need to be retrofittable to the current fleet of locomotives. Each diesel-powered locomotive converted to alternative energy sources can save up to 3,000 tons of CO2 per year.”
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Also testifying at “The Business Case for Climate Solutions” hearing were Troy Rudd, CEO of AECOM, and Tom Lewis, National Business Line Executive for Climate, Resilience & Sustainability at WSP USA.
In his testimony, Rudd focused on the following three areas:
1. Advancing electrification. Rudd asked Congress to consider “working with the private sector in setting design standards to encourage interoperability of charging infrastructure and advancing the use of electric vehicles.” He also suggested “prioritizing pilot projects to convert large state/municipal- and private-sector fleets (as a precursor to broader community transition),” among other measures.
2. Building resilient infrastructure. AECOM clients, Rudd said, are interested in “pursuing infrastructure improvements to minimize disruption risks, and to extend the performance, safety and longevity of their transport infrastructure.” As an example, he said, the firm is working with BNSF on a flood mitigation study, with the intent of minimizing “annual damage repairs and losses from out-of-service delays by developing a flood risk prioritization tool and impact assessment.” Among his recommendations to Congress: “A grant pilot program that offsets the additional cost of new resilient infrastructure in a market that prioritizes low bids, would incentivize and capitalize on the opportunity to build truly resilient and long-lasting infrastructure, and realize a range of associated benefits.”
3. Unlocking Innovation. “Advances in new modes of mobility can play a critical role in congestion management, emissions reduction, economic output and innovation,” Rudd testified. “AECOM has been supporting clients to explore visionary, new forms of mobility ranging from high speed rail to Hyperloop, and more recently Electric Vertical Take-Off and Landing (eVTOL). AECOM led the environmental process to support federal decision-making for the high speed rail project between Dallas and Houston.” Additionally, Rudd said, “AECOM sees merit in encouraging greater use of innovative mobility options to address first mile and last mile needs and expand access to existing systems.” One of his next-step recommendations: “We believe opportunities exist to address these challenges through changes to USDOT programs, revisions to contracting rules and greater flexibility in standards to accelerate the adoption of innovation in transportation.”
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WSP USA’s Tom Lewis told the Committee that “transportation is the lifeblood of our economies and is also the leading contributor to greenhouse gas emissions [GHG] in the U.S., accounting for approximately 30% of the nation’s total emissions including cars, trucks, airplanes and other transit modes.” What’s needed now, he said, in a national approach to repairing and maintaining roads, bridges and other transportation infrastructure are “new assumptions to accelerate how we design, measure, manage and invest in infrastructure to achieve both resilient and adapted standards, and the transition to a low or net zero carbon economy that fully considers the physical and social impacts of carbon and other GHG emissions.”
Among Lewis’ recommendations to Congress:
• “Elevate climate change and extreme weather impacts on resilient infrastructure as a national concern.
• “Encourage and enable communities and agencies to define and quantify the risks they face with respect to climate change.
• “Support the consideration of equity and social justice in climate change and adaptation decisions.
• “Provide incentives (for example, grants or tax incentives) for incorporating future proofing actions and social equity into project designs.
• “Adopt policies that encourage the rebuilding of extreme weather- or climate change-related failed or disrupted infrastructure that ensures the causes of such failures are understood and future protections are incorporated into new designs.
• “Support research on the continuing and evolving science and technology phenomena that exacerbate climate change impacts or that conversely can help mitigate and/or adapt to such changes.”
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“Both private-sector action and sound public policy are necessary to meaningfully address climate change,” House Committee Chair Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) said at the hearing’s start. “This is not about whether we need either private voluntary reductions or government measures. This is an all-hands-on-deck situation.”
Editor’s Opinion: T&I Committee Ranking Member Sam Graves (R-Mo.) in opening remarks, said the following (bolded text, which refers to my closing comments, my emphasis):
“We can all agree that we want clean air and clean water for our communities, and that we must prepare for the challenges posed by severe weather events that are happening with greater frequency and intensity. “While climate change is often considered to be a loaded issue that sends us all to our respective partisan corners, I can tell you that protecting the environment has bipartisan interest. We have leaders on this Committee who have been working hard to address this issue. And this committee has a bipartisan track record of addressing issues like resiliency and mitigation, which prepares our infrastructure to withstand the impacts of climate change. Having said that, you will not find bipartisan support for heavy-handed government mandates, one-size-fits-all policies, or the complete upending of our traditional infrastructure programs to enact excessive climate goals that look more like the liberal agenda outlined in the Green New Deal. We are willing to work with our Democratic colleagues on the goal of reducing emissions in transportation. However, my colleagues must also understand that people are not going to stop driving cars or flying on airplanes. While dramatically increasing funding for transit and passenger rail – as proposed in last year’s H.R. 2 – may take some cars off the road in urban centers, it is often inefficient and unjustifiable in rural America. Additionally, COVID has completely disrupted our transportation network, and it’s important to see how the system rebalances itself and what our new reality will look like. Meanwhile, I think there are a couple of key points that help keep things in perspective. America is the world leader in reducing emissions. According to the International Energy Agency, U.S. emissions reductions in the last 10 years have been the largest in world history. Plus, goods manufactured in the U.S. now are 80% more carbon-efficient than the world average. There are a lot of innovative American companies coming up with solutions to reduce our emissions. It’s important, as we hear from our witnesses about the solutions they have developed on their own, that Congress doesn’t trample on the progress they are making. We must also keep in perspective that while many of these businesses testifying today are great American companies, they have the resources and manpower to change and adapt more quickly. What works for larger companies may not work for the smaller operators. The way to lead the world in becoming greener and more resilient is not through unachievable, one-size-fits-all policies or spending trillions on a patchwork of pilot programs. Heavy-handed mandates will only waste money, constrain innovation, and put many of our job-creators out of business. Instead, incentives that spur American innovation and accelerate what is already being done are the key to achieving our climate goals without taking down the economy and regulating jobs out of existence.”
In my personal opinion, most of these Graves pronouncements are inaccurate, disingenuous (that’s a polite way of saying “dumb”), indicate total cluelessness, and are mostly a waste of everyone’s time and breathable air. But that’s just my opinion. The world is changing, Rep. Graves. Either you get it, or you don’t. And you obviously don’t. — William C. Vantuono