Rail Climate Considerations
The transportation sector emits the highest amount of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of all the U.S. sectors, with the rail sector contributing 2% of those emissions. Rail plays an important role in reducing the transportation sector's emissions due to the efficiency of passenger and freight rail transportation. FRA is committed to reducing rail’s carbon footprint through supporting the expansion of electrification and other sustainable fuels, expanding the rail network to provide a more efficient choice for passengers and goods shipments, and reducing GHG emissions from the operations, maintenance and construction of the rail system.
Climate change results in an increasing risk to the safety, effectiveness, equity, and sustainability of our transportation infrastructure and the communities it serves. FRA works to promote and execute on initiatives in which tackling climate change is a central component. Furthermore, FRA is dedicated to funding rail projects that create a rail network that is resilient against the impacts of climate change.
The challenges the rail industry faces regarding climate change are twofold:
Emissions: The rail network, for both passengers and freight, produces lower GHG emissions than roadway and air transportation, which means that shifting trips from road and air to rail in markets where it makes sense can reduce overall transportation emissions. Still, rail’s reliance on diesel fuel leaves a large challenge in reducing GHG emissions from the rail industry.
Resiliency: The rail industry is vulnerable to climate-related weather events and must address the issue of infrastructure resiliency. FRA manages billions in taxpayer funding to develop and support a safe and efficient rail network, so these investments should be built to withstand the effects of climate change. Adverse conditions, such as excessive heat, flooding, sea-level rise, tornadoes, hurricanes, and wildfires are exacerbated by climate change and threaten the safety and reliability of the rail network.
A whole-of-government approach is necessary to effectively tackle climate change, which is why FRA will continue to strengthen our long-standing relationships with governmental agencies to achieve our climate goals. By building on existing and creating new public-private partnerships, we will increase engagement with the rail industry sector to collaborate on research and development for passenger and freight rail technology that will keep our planet and communities healthy, while also creating millions of good-paying jobs.
FRA will proactively conduct outreach to project sponsors and applicants regarding our funding programs and opportunities to enhance climate and equity outcomes. This will allow project sponsors and applicants to identify investments that prioritize people, communities, and infrastructure that are most vulnerable to climate impacts. For more details on our climate change efforts, view the links below.
FRA Climate Challenge: On April 22, 2022 in its Earth Day Press Release, FRA announced its rail industry Climate Challenge. The agency is asking owners and operators along the national rail network, and manufacturers of rail equipment, to join FRA’s commitment to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in the rail industry and rail transportation by 2050. Achieving this target will contribute to FRA’s key goals of building a safe, efficient, and modern transportation system that will expand economic opportunities, create cleaner and safer communities, and help avert the worst effects of climate change. Simultaneously, FRA’s Climate Challenge will promote the country’s global leadership in innovation and climate protection.
Environmentally Sustainable Energy Workshop: In September 2021, FRA brought together industry and agency experts to discuss the next-gen technologies that will power the future of rail transportation and support decarbonization. The domestic and international participants included Class I railroads, AAR, UIC Shift2Rail, EPA, Sandia National Labs, and railroad equipment manufacturers. The workshop highlighted research on energy efficiency and technologies to address climate change and advanced the short- and long-term research roadmap.
NEC FUTURE: NEC FUTURE is FRA's comprehensive plan for improving the Northeast Corridor (NEC) from Washington, D.C., to Boston, MA. Through NEC FUTURE, FRA has worked closely with NEC states, railroads, stakeholders, and the public to define a long-term vision for the corridor's future. The Record of Decision describes this vision, referred to as the Selected Alternative. FRA will work with the NEC Commission, as well as states and railroads, on service development planning in support of the Selected Alternative. Learn more about the progress made.
Climate Change: Climate change results in an increasing risk to the safety, effectiveness, equity, and sustainability of our transportation infrastructure and the communities it serves. FRA will also be a leader within the rail network to fight climate change as the industry continues to move goods and people around the country.
Energy: Transforming railroad power to clean and renewable fuels is critical in responsibly protecting the environment. Shifting the propulsion and general operation of locomotives from traditional energy to sustainable fuel sources will be beneficial to the health of the rail industry and our planet.
Resilience: The rail network faces challenges from the impacts of climate change including increased heat events, more frequent and severe flooding, sea-level rise, hurricanes, tornadoes and other storm events exacerbated by the changing climate. FRA must ensure its investments will be able to withstand the impacts of climate change and will focus on building to standards that create a resilient rail network.
Administration Climate Efforts
FACT SHEET: President Biden’s Leaders Summit on Climate
FACT SHEET: President Biden Sets 2030 Greenhouse Gas Pollution Reduction Target Aimed at Creating Good-Paying Union Jobs and Securing U.S. Leadership on Clean Energy Technologies
FACT SHEET: President Biden Takes Executive Actions to Tackle the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad, Create Jobs, and Restore Scientific Integrity Across Federal Government
U.S. DOT Climate Efforts
U.S. DOT Climate Change Center
Federal Aviation Administration: Climate Action Plan
Federal Highway Administration: Environment
EPA SmartWay Program: Helps companies advance supply chain sustainability by measuring, benchmarking, and improving freight transportation efficiency.
International Energy Agency’s June 2020 Report