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U.S. Department of Transportation U.S. Department of Transportation Icon United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation

Rail Climate Considerations

Amtrak Coast Starlight (Los Angeles - Seattle)

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.