Alternative Fuels for the Future

Norfolk Southern’s interest in alternative locomotive power is not limited to battery technologies. The company is committed to exploring and developing alternatives that are cleaner-burning, more fuel-efficient, and less expensive than petroleum diesel and that also promote U.S. energy independence and homegrown fuel sources.

The company’s Mechanical Department, for example, is looking at the opportunities and challenges involved in using liquid natural gas to fuel locomotives. That possibility has drawn widespread interest within the rail industry, as new drilling and recovery technologies have expanded U.S. production and supplies of the relatively low-cost domestic resource.

In 2010 in Illinois, the railroad partnered with locomotive maker Electro-Motive Diesel to do extensive testing on biodiesel blends, including soybean-based additives. Since mid-2011, Norfolk Southern has used an approximately 11-percent biodiesel blend to fuel locomotives operating out of the Chicago and Decatur terminals.

In 2013, the company used around 11 million gallons of biodiesel for Illinois operations, taking advantage of state and federal tax credits that offset the higher production costs associated with biodiesel versus petroleum diesel. According to the Alternative Fuels Data Center, use of biodiesel reduces greenhouse gas and other emissions associated with petroleum diesel. In 2012, Norfolk Southern began an experiment at our Meridian, Miss., terminal fueling locomotives with a synthetic biodiesel made from waste animal fats and grease. Norfolk Southern was the first U.S. railroad to use the 100 percent biodiesel fuel. However, the terminal resumed fueling locomotives with petroleum diesel during 2013 after the Louisiana plant supplying the biodiesel was idled by its owner in late 2012.