Electrifying the Northern Transcon?

Environmentalist author says electrified freight railroads help the earth
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SEATTLE — An environmentalist book author is calling for the electrification of more than 4,000 miles of railroad across the northern U.S.

In a new book, Solutionary Rail, Bill Moyer, co-founder of the Backbone Campaign, argues that electrifying U.S. railroads would be a positive for the earth. The Backbone group typically works against moving coal and crude oil in the Pacific Northwest, but the book signals a shift in his and the group's emphasis.

“We can say 'no' to things but we also have to say 'yes' to things and this is one of those things,” Moyer says about electric railroads.

Moyer says that electrifying BNSF Railway’s northern corridor from Chicago to Seattle, as well as secondary lines such as Montana Rail Link, could offer a testing ground for wider electrification projects in North America. The book notes that the United States lags behind other industrial nations when it comes to electrified freight. According to the book, less than 1 percent of the U.S. rail network is electrified, compared to 64 percent in Italy, 52 percent in France, and 48 percent in Germany. Moyer says electrifying railroads would mean the industry, as a whole, would rely less on fossil fuels and more on renewable energy such as that produced from wind and water turbines.

Moyer says that electrifying a freight railroad is nothing new in the United States, in fact the Pacific Northwest was home to some of the most iconic examples, including the Great Northern in the Cascades and the Milwaukee Road in Washington, Idaho, and Montana.

“This is not untested technology,” he says.

In his book, Moyer writes that while the upfront infrastructure costs of such a project would be high, the long-term benefits to the economy and the environment would be worth the effort. Moyer proposes a public-private partnership between states, Native American tribes, railroads, and others to get the project off the ground, which he estimates would cost billions of dollars.

Moyer says he hopes that people who read the book reach out to elected officials to talk about the advantages of electrifying more railroads.

“There is so much divisiveness in our politics today and railroads offer an opportunity to transcend ideology and transcend that divisiveness,” he says. “Every group of people have different views and interests, but a lot of those groups agree on rail.”

More information is available online. 

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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