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 by supporting the expansion of zero-emission power sources, 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 increases risk to the safety, effectiveness, equity, and sustainability of our transportation infrastructure and the communities it serves. FRA works to promote and execute initiatives in which tackling climate change is a central component. Furthermore, FRA funds rail projects that create a resilient rail network against climate change impacts.
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 tackle climate change effectively. The Biden-Harris Administration released the U.S. National Blueprint for Transportation Decarbonization. Developed by the Departments of Energy, Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and the Environmental Protection Agency. This document is a landmark strategy for cutting all greenhouse emissions from the transportation sector by 2050. It exemplifies the whole-of-government approach to addressing the climate crisis and meeting President Biden’s goals of securing a 100% clean electrical grid by 2035 and reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
FRA developed its Climate and Sustainability Program to reduce emissions, build resilient infrastructure, and create a sustainable rail network. FRA will continue strengthening our long-standing relationships with governmental agencies and building on existing and new public-private partnerships. FRA will continue to collaborate on funding, research and development of passenger and freight rail technology that will keep our planet and communities healthy while creating millions of good-paying jobs.
In addition, 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 prioritizing people, communities, and infrastructure most vulnerable to climate impacts. To help identify Federal funding sources for the rail community to address climate issues, FRA developed the Climate-Related Funding Opportunities for the Rail Industry
For more details on our climate change efforts, view the links below.
International Workshop on Rail Decarbonization: The FRA Offices of Railroad Safety, and Research, Data and Innovation hosted an international workshop on rail decarbonization from May 15-18, 2023 in Denver, CO. The workshop convened in-person discussions between U.S. and international rail and clean energy experts on rail decarbonization technologies and strategies. Presentations covered topics related to advanced energy storage and rail propulsion systems, hydrogen fuel, bioenergy technologies, and more. Discussions also focused on the safety of clean energy technologies, operating best practices for improving efficiency, and reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHGs) from freight and passenger rail systems in the U.S. and globally.
U.S. National Blueprint for Transportation Decarbonization: On January 10, 2023, the Biden-Harris Administration released The U.S. National Blueprint for Transportation Decarbonization: A Joint Strategy to Transform Transportation. Developed by the Departments of Energy, Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and the Environmental Protection Agency, the Blueprint is a landmark strategy for cutting all greenhouse emissions from the transportation sector by 2050. It exemplifies the Biden-Harris Administration’s whole-of-government approach to addressing the climate crisis and meeting President Biden’s goals of securing a 100% clean electrical grid by 2035 and reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. The Blueprint builds on President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act, which together represent historic investments in the future of our nation that will transform how we move and live while we build the backbone of a safer and more sustainable transportation system.
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.
Federal funding sources may apply to rail projects to address climate-related issues. Note that not all funding sources may be listed in this document as new initiatives may become available after the publication of this chart. In addition, other FRA grant programs for rail development may not be specifically focused on climate issues but are also available to rail stakeholders.
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
EPA SmartWay Program: Helps companies advance supply chain sustainability by measuring, benchmarking, and improving freight transportation efficiency.