Railroads are overcoming decades of resistance from environmentalists by touting their greener aspects.
"With fuel prices at record highs and worries about global warming reaching critical mass, U.S. companies of all stripes are touting their green credentials. That list includes plenty of businesses that wouldn't normally be associated with the environmental movement, like oil companies or mining outfits. But the juxtaposition for trains is among the starkest.
Early in the 20th century, steam-powered trains, fueled by coal, cast off trails of embers that often ignited and denuded the surrounding landscape. Train accidents and cargo spills still taint perceptions of railroad companies. Earlier this month, a Burlington Northern Santa Fe train partially derailed in Lafayette, La., and began leaking hydrochloric acid. Several thousand people were forced to evacuate. (Accidents involving trains carrying hazardous material have been declining slightly over the past decade, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.)
Freight trains now use much cleaner and more fuel-efficient diesel engines, and railroad companies are testing new engines that the industry is touting as "ultralow-emission." Many environmentalists acknowledge that the railroads have a powerful argument, given that freight trains burn far less fuel than trucks and can help reduce highway congestion.
"In general, train transportation is much more fuel efficient than trucking, and we should be doing more of it," says Colin F. Peppard, transportation policy coordinator for Friends of the Earth, an environmental advocacy group."