We look for creative ways to partner with communities and government agencies to preserve the environment and reduce our environmental impacts. Our aim is to identify solutions that make good sense economically, socially, and environmentally.
‘SURFing’ to a sustainable future
Norfolk Southern’s Trees and Trains program is designed as an investment in conservation capitalism and potentially as a means to mitigate carbon emissions. We also have introduced tree planting as a sustainable alternative for environmental remediation projects at historical operating sites.
“Norfolk Southern is looking to be progressive in sustainability applied to site remediation,” said Scott Pittenger, an engineer in our environmental remediation group, part of our Safety and Environmental Department. “The approach goes beyond just ecological considerations and works to incorporate societal and economic benefits in the planning and remedy stages of remediation.”
Our railroad participates in the Sustainable Remediation Forum, or SURF, a nonprofit corporation initiated in 2006 to advocate for sustainable practices in environmental remediation. SURF membership is comprised of industry leaders and practitioners, including DuPont, BP, and Shell, among others, who work with industry, government agencies, environmental groups, consultants, and academia to promote the benefits of sustainable remediation.
Our remediation projects reclaim sites we owned or leased that have become degraded or adversely impacted by past uses. In the past, remediation often involved use of expensive mechanical systems to pump out polluted groundwater or remove contaminated soils.
Using trees for site remediation is known as phytoremediation. The roots soak up contaminants in the soil and groundwater and break them down into harmless components in the tree tissue. That’s good for the environment and also creates social benefits, such as turning former industrial sites into wooded spaces for public recreation and wildlife habitat.
We first tried phytoremediation at a former rail crosstie yard in Oneida, Tenn. About 1,100 hybrid poplars were planted to treat soil and groundwater that had become degraded by creosote used to treat crossties. Testing data collected during the remediation process demonstrated that the trees’ root systems were dissipating the contaminants. The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation agreed and approved the technology.
We now are working with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Environmental Protection Division, on a tree-planting project to reclaim a 52-acre site in Macon, Ga., once leased to a company that used creosote in the manufacture of crossties and telephone poles. Currently, a mechanical system pumps creosote-impacted groundwater through an on-site treatment system to a city-owned treatment facility. This approach is costly, generates carbon emissions, and involves transfer of valuable groundwater resources without beneficial use.
In early 2012, we planted a one-acre pilot plot with 300 native sweet gum and maple trees to demonstrate to state environmental officials the effectiveness of a more sustainable approach to meet site restoration goals. The pilot is expected to operate for five years to allow time for the trees to mature and for the collection and evaluation of data.
“We’re looking at a system that would let nature take its course,” said Pittenger. “It is a sustainable approach that carries benefits for everyone involved.”
Model project: A win for environment, an Ohio community, and the railroad
In Sharonville, Ohio, we joined a community effort to help turn a once vacant industrial parcel into what some now describe as an urban oasis. Known as the Twin Creek Preserve, this 30-acre wetland and stream-restoration project won the 2012 Ohio Stormwater Association Award for best nonprofit project.
The preserve is north of Norfolk Southern’s Sharonville Yard, between our New Castle District line to the west and Cincinnati line to the east. We donated 3.5 acres of marshy land to the Mill Creek Conservancy for the $2.1 million project; we also donated the cost of flag-protection time to permit work to occur adjacent to train lines near the site. Partners in the effort included the Butler County Water & Sewer Department, Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati, city of Sharonville, OKI Regional Council of Governments, AMEC, General Mills, and Hamilton County Soil & Water Conservation District.
The project’s benefits include creation of valuable habitat for a variety of wildlife and recreational space for area residents. Norfolk Southern also benefited, because the project will reduce seasonal flooding that encroached on our tracks and undermined rail infrastructure.
Memberships in associations and/or national/international advocacy organizations.