BNSF Railway Takes a Closer Look at Natural Gas

The nation’s largest railroad is taking a closer look at natural gas to power its locomotives.

BNSF Railway operates more than 1,000 trains a day on one of the largest freight rail transportation networks in North America. By the company’s own estimates, it is the second-biggest user of diesel in the country, after the U.S. Navy. But that might change.

The company’s CEO told The Wall Street Journal that BNSF Railway is taking a closer look at cleaner, cheaper domestic natural gas. And it has already begun working with manufacturers to design the appropriate locomotives.

“This could be a transformational event for our railroad,” BNSF Chief Executive Matt Rose told the Wall Street Journal.

Shifting to natural gas would “rank right up there” with the industry’s historic transition away from steam engines last century, Rose said.

The reason for the switch is a simple one. According to federal statistics, a gallon of diesel fuel cost an average of $3.97 last year. The equivalent amount of energy using natural gas cost 48 cents at industrial prices. This is because America’s superabundance of abundant supply of natural gas has caused natural-gas prices plummeting.

BNSF is working with manufacturers to develop a locomotive that can run on diesel and gas, which Mr. Rose said could lower fuel costs and help meet federal air-pollution standards that take effect in two years.

The new locomotives, which use liquefied natural gas, are being developed by units of General Electric Co. and Caterpillar Inc. Rose said preliminary tests indicated that LNG-powered trains could go farther before refueling than diesel trains and have comparable towing power.

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