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With consumption of some 4 billion gallons of diesel fuel per year, ample land for infrastructure installation and a plethora of trucks to serve as a secondary market, railroads would seem a natural for a switch to LNG.

Impediments include real-world engineering challenges and innate structural and cultural conservatism. Rail already slaughters its onroad competition on a ton-mile-per-dollar-basis and without capital expenditure can’t challenge trucks in new geographic areas. There is, further, a prevailing view that Diesel Works, So Why Change It? Local fire concerns could impede the rights of way of LNG-fueled trains, or at least cause unwelcome argument.

Engineering challenges include the quandary of how best build a tender, or fuel car, how to transfer the fuel from tender tank to engine – vaporize on the tender or on the locomotive itself – keeping in mind that most trains have multiple locomotives.

With the exception of Burlington Northern’s dual fuel diesel-LNG coal trains that ran from Wyoming to Wisconsin from 1991-1995, and attractions like California’s Napa Valley Wine Train (which went all-CNG in 2008), most natural gas rail activity is outside the United States, with projects in various stages in Russia, Brazil, Peru, Thailand, and India. The current standout effort in North America is in Canada, where Westport Innovations and Montreal’s Gaz Metro utility are among the organizations backing conversion of an EMD locomotive operated by the national CN railroad.

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