Two diesel locomotives that run between the metro area and South Dakota used to sit with their engines idling for hours to keep from freezing.
The practice uses up diesel fuel, pollutes the air, and is very noisy.
But with help from federal stimulus money, the two locomotives now are equipped with new idle reduction technology that keeps the engines warm without running them. It's quieter, uses significantly less fuel and keeps the trains running cleaner.
Officials with Twin Cities & Western Railroad Company, based in Glencoe, Minn., demonstrated the new technology on one of the locomotives on Wednesday in Hopkins.
The Minnesota Environmental Initiative used part of a $3 million grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to retrofit two of Twin Cities & Western Railroad Company's locomotives.
While most of the railroad's locomotives have antifreeze to prevent them from needing to idle, TC&W President Mark Wegner said most train engines in the U.S. use water to keep them cool.
"The temperature of the engine must be greater than 32 degrees because if the water freezes, then you've destroyed a half million dollar engine," he said.
Wegner said it cost about $70,000 to retrofit the two diesel locomotives -- a sum the railroad would have paid off eventually in fuel savings. But he said it would have taken many years without help from Project Green Fleet and the Minnesota Environmental Initiative, which administered the grant money.
Bill Droessler, director of environmental projects for the initiative, said reducing diesel use isn't required by law, so the organization had to search for willing partners.
"Nobody has to do anything," he said. "So we have to do a tremendous amount of outreach to find the people who own the diesel engines."
Until now, Project Green Fleet had focused its efforts on retrofitting mostly school buses with pollution control equipment. It has also worked to reduce emissions from heavy-duty diesel vehicles and equipment in Minnesota.
Anthony Maietta, who works for the U.S. EPA's clean diesel initiative, said the particulate pollution from diesel exhaust is a health concern, especially for people who live near rail yards.
"Locomotive engines, especially in colder weather, can run all day and all night, even when they're not in use," Maietta said.
Diesel locomotive engines use 4 to 12 gallons of fuel per hour, whereas the new technologsy -- called an auxiliary power unit -- keeps the engine warm by using just a half gallon per hour.
"The colder that it gets outside, the higher end of that spectrum that engine is going to use," Maietta said. "Even if you're looking at the low end of four gallons an hour of diesel fuel when that train is idling, you're looking at an eight-fold reduction."
Wegner said the railroad has been using the new technology in the locomotive since winter. He plans to encourage other railroads to retrofit their engines.
"I think it makes sense for all the railroads in Minnesota," he said.