Union Pacific to spend $1B to upgrade 600 older locomotives

Jul 26, 2022, 4:00 AM | Updated: 4:43 pm

In this photo provided by Wabtec, a completed modernized Union Pacific locomotive is prepped for de...

In this photo provided by Wabtec, a completed modernized Union Pacific locomotive is prepped for delivery at Wabtec's Fort Worth plant in Fort Worth, Texas, in October 2021. Union Pacific will spend more than $1 billion to upgrade 600 of its old diesel locomotives over the next three years and make them more efficient, but regulators still want it to do more to cut pollution from its engines. (Jay Sifler/Wabtec via AP)

(Jay Sifler/Wabtec via AP)

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Union Pacific will spend more than $1 billion to upgrade 600 of its old diesel locomotives over the next three years and make them more efficient, but regulators still want it to do more to cut pollution from its engines.

The move will accelerate the pace of upgrades UP already planned to make and help the Omaha, Nebraska-based railroad cut roughly 210,000 tons of carbon emissions each year — the equivalent of taking 45,000 cars off the road. The railroad will go from modernizing 120 locomotives this year to modernizing 200 a year in each of the next three years.

“It’s really taking the older locomotive fleet and applying the latest and greatest to get one of the most fuel efficient locomotives we can have,” said Grace Olsen, who oversees locomotive engineering for Union Pacific.

The railroad estimates that this program will improve the fuel efficiency of these long-haul locomotives by up to 18% and help them produce peak power more reliably. To accomplish that, locomotive manufacturer Wabtec will strip down the locomotives, and spend eight weeks overhauling their engines and installing new software and electronic controls.

The improved power will let Union Pacific pull the same amount of freight with fewer locomotives. That, combined with the railroad’s efforts to significantly boost the length of its trains, will allow Union Pacific to keep more of its fleet of 7,400 locomotives in storage. UP has already parked hundreds of locomotives as part of the operational changes it has made over the past several years.

Wabtec says this UP project is the biggest single investment in modernizing locomotives in railroad history although other major freight railroads are making similar improvements to their fleets. Earlier this year, Norfolk Southern announced plants to modernize 330 of its 3,200 locomotives over the next three years to give it more than 950 modernized locomotives by the end of 2025. UP will have 1,033 upgraded locomotives after its project.

“It comes down to really taking an asset that’s there and really infusing it with technology so that for the next 20 years of its life, it’s optimized,” said Gina Trombley, Wabtec’s Chief Commercial Officer.

UP says these locomotive upgrades are an important part of its plan to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 26% by 2030, compared with 2018 levels, along with increasing the amount of biodiesel and other renewable fuels it uses to 20% of its fuel consumption. The railroad has also announced plans to buy 20 battery-powered locomotives to test out in its railyards beginning next year, but UP officials say that technology won’t be ready for widespread use for at least several more years.

UP and the other major freight railroads like to tout the fact that they are more efficient than trucks because each train can haul the amount of freight that it would take hundreds of trucks to deliver. The EPA estimates that railroads account for about 2% of the greenhouse gas emissions from transportation while hauling 40% of the raw materials, finished products and imported goods that businesses rely on. Locomotives account for nearly all of railroads’ emissions.

Regulators with the California Air Resources Board who have led the nation with their efforts to regulate locomotive pollution and lobbied the federal Environmental Protection Agency to tighten its locomotive standards said the reduction in carbon emissions is welcome, but they would like to see Union Pacific focus more on reducing its particulate matter and nitrous oxide emissions, which are associated with increased cancer risks and other health problems — particularly around railyards.

Diesel exhaust contains tiny particles that can penetrate deep into the lungs, carrying a variety of toxins that have been linked to cancer, lung disease, heart attacks and other ailments.

“What we’re talking about today is more GHG (greenhouse gas) focused, which we look at as important, but it’s a secondary impact when we’re talking about reducing freight emissions at ports and railyards and their associated health impacts for communities,” said Cari Anderson, who oversees locomotive regulations at the California agency.

Regulators would rather see Union Pacific invest in new locomotives that can meet today’s more stringent environmental regulations instead of overhauling locomotives that were purchased roughly 30 years ago and continuing to use them for years more.

Anderson said California wants freight railroads to upgrade their entire fleets to locomotives that can meet the EPA’s tough Tier 4 standard because that is associated with a 90% reduction in cancer risk or use locomotives with no emissions like the battery-powered ones that UP is testing. Currently, only about 5% of Union Pacific’s locomotives used in the state meet the Tier 4 standard.

Union Pacific said the best these locomotives purchased in the 1990s can do is meet the EPA’s lower Tier 2 standard. The railroad said the improvements being made to these locomotives should help reduce some of the particulate matter and nitrous oxide emissions, but it didn’t have an estimate of how much those will improve.

Union Pacific is one of the nation’s largest railroads with a network of 32,400 miles (52,000 kilometers) of track in 23 Western states.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Eugene and Linda Lamie, of Homerville, Ga., sit by the grave of their son U.S. Army Sgt. Gene Lamie...

Associated Press

Biden on Memorial Day lauds generations of fallen US troops who ‘dared all and gave all’

President Joe Biden lauded the sacrifice of generations of U.S. troops who died fighting for their country as he marked Memorial Day with the traditional wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery.

1 day ago

OpenAI's CEO Sam Altman, the founder of ChatGPT and creator of OpenAI gestures while speaking at Un...

Associated Press

ChatGPT maker downplays fears they could leave Europe over AI rules

OpenAI CEO Sam Altman on Friday downplayed worries that the ChatGPT maker could exit the European Union

2 days ago

File - Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai, left, and OpenAI CEO Sam Altman arrive to the White House for a ...

Associated Press

Regulators take aim at AI to protect consumers and workers

As concerns grow over increasingly powerful artificial intelligence systems like ChatGPT, the nation’s financial watchdog says it’s working to ensure that companies follow the law when they’re using AI.

4 days ago

FILE - A security surveillance camera is seen near the Microsoft office building in Beijing, July 2...

Associated Press

Microsoft: State-sponsored Chinese hackers could be laying groundwork for disruption

State-backed Chinese hackers have been targeting U.S. critical infrastructure and could be laying the technical groundwork for the potential disruption of critical communications between the U.S. and Asia during future crises, Microsoft said Wednesday.

5 days ago

FILE - President Joe Biden speaks in the East Room of the White House, May 17, 2023, in Washington....

Associated Press

White House unveils new efforts to guide federal research of AI

The White House on Tuesday announced new efforts to guide federally backed research on artificial intelligence

6 days ago

FILE - The Capitol stands in Washington D.C. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)Credit: ASSOCIATED...

Associated Press

What it would mean for the economy if the US defaults on its debt

If the debt crisis roiling Washington were eventually to send the United States crashing into recession, America’s economy would hardly sink alone.

7 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Internet Washington...

Major Internet Upgrade and Expansion Planned This Year in Washington State

Comcast is investing $280 million this year to offer multi-gigabit Internet speeds to more than four million locations.

Compassion International...

Brock Huard and Friends Rally Around The Fight for First Campaign

Professional athletes are teaming up to prevent infant mortality and empower women at risk in communities facing severe poverty.

Emergency Preparedness...

Prepare for the next disaster at the Emergency Preparedness Conference

Being prepared before the next emergency arrives is key to preserving businesses and organizations of many kinds.

SHIBA volunteer...

Volunteer to help people understand their Medicare options!

If you’re retired or getting ready to retire and looking for new ways to stay active, becoming a SHIBA volunteer could be for you!

safety from crime...

As crime increases, our safety measures must too

It's easy to be accused of fearmongering regarding crime, but Seattle residents might have good reason to be concerned for their safety.

Comcast Ready for Business Fund...

Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.

Union Pacific to spend $1B to upgrade 600 older locomotives