Alaska Railroad curtails idling locomotives

FAIRBANKS, Alaska — With fall and winter temperatures routinely below zero — a high temperature of minus-20 was forecast for Saturday — it is common for drivers in Fairbanks to idle their vehicles to keep them somewhat warm.

The Alaska Railroad has been doing it, too, keeping its locomotives running in the frigid weather even when not in use.

But the railroad announced this week it has curtailed the practice and moved the locomotives indoors. Since Nov. 1, the reduced idling has cut fuel usage by more than 24,000 gallons, saving roughly $80,000, according to a statement sent from the railroad to the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

“As we gather more information and history, we expect to further validate our numbers,” said David Greenhalgh, the railroad’s director of crew management and transportation services. “The next phase will track the positive environmental impact from fewer emissions.”

Railroad employees pitched the Locomotive Idle Reduction Program to management in September as a way to save money. The railroad said moving the locomotives indoors required some logistical maneuvering because indoor space is at a premium in the winter. But it has been worth it.

“This is a perfect example of an employee-driven idea producing great results not only for the company but for our Railbelt neighbors as well,” said Chris Aadnesen, the railroad’s president and CEO.

Borough Mayor Luke Hopkins praised the railroad, saying the area’s frequent temperature inversions trap pollution near ground-level. The Alaska Railroad’s yards are concentrated in the central part of the city, in low areas.

“The health hazards of the particulate pollution are very real,” Hopkins said. “I appreciate ARRC taking steps to clean our air.”

Smoke from inefficient wood stoves is believed to be the No. 1 contributor to the problem that has put Fairbanks on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s list of communities violating fine particle pollution standards. Small-particulate matter pollution has been linked to asthma, chronic bronchitis, heart and lung problems, and premature death.

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