Norfolk Southern continues roll-out of lower-emission locomotives

By David Pendered

Norfolk Southern rolled out in Chicago last week more of the eco-friendly locomotives the company unveiled in Atlanta in September. The engines are designed to reduce particulate matter emissions by 76 percent, according to a Chicago official.

Norfolk Southern's new eco locomotive is up to 25 percent more efficient than the train engines currently on our rails. File/

Norfolk Southern’s new eco locomotive is up to 25 percent more efficient than the train engines currently in use.

These locomotives are the first to be developed with federal funding. The engines, to be used in railroad yards, are part of the nation’s ongoing effort to reduce emissions in order to protect the environment and comply with provisions of the Clear Air Act.

The Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) Improvement Program provided a total of $19 million to Georgia and Illinois to help pay the cost of installing new technology in existing locomotives. The sum represents nearly two-thirds of the $30 million cost of the program.

Norfolk Southern has rebuilt 25 locomotives that date to the early 1980s in order to reduce the engines’ emissions. The locomotives were designed and built by Norfolk Southern at its shop in Juniata, Pa. The first locomotive rolled off the line in January and all 25 engines are to be complete next year.

The older trains received updated electrical equipment, such as microprocessors that auto start and stop the motor, and remote control. The engines were replaced. The old motors were based on a design that dates to the mid 1960s. The new motors are based on a design from the early 1980s and comply with emission standards.

The engines produce 3,000 horsepower. They locomotives also designed to be used with a secondary locomotive called a slug, according to a page on the historic publication A slug adds pulling power, but its traction motors are powered by electricity provided by the primary locomotive.

Norfolk Southern, Inman Yard, 2013

Air quality in Atlanta is expected to improve as Norfolk Southern takes delivery of lower-emission locomotives for use at its busy Inman Yard, near Downtown Atlanta. Credit:

The new GP33ECO locomotives were designed to meet the Tier 3 emissions standards that were established in 2008 and became effective in 2012.

The next step toward reducing emissions is outlined in Tier 4. It sets standards to treat exhaust gases, and became effective this year, according to the trade publication

At the unveiling in Atlanta, on Sept. 1, Norfolk Southern COO Mark Manion described the eco locomotive in terms of the company’s continuing efforts to reduce emissions.

“Over the last five years, we have significantly lowered greenhouse gas emissions of our locomotive fleet, achieving an 8.5 percent reduction per revenue ton-mile,” Manion said in a statement. “Rollout of the Eco units demonstrates Norfolk Southern’s continuing commitment to industry leadership in sustainability best practices and environmental partnerships.”

Ten of the rebuilt locomotives are to be used in Norfolk Southern’s yard in Atlanta. The remaining 15 locomotives were built for use at Norfolk Southern’s five yards in the Chicago area. Norfolk Southern intends to add locomotives to yards in Macon and Rome as federal funding becomes available, the company said in a statement.

“These locomotives will be rolling billboards in Chicago for years to come of one of the finest examples of collaboration between public and private partners to think and act big on diesel emission reduction technology,” Norfolk Southern Vice President/Mechanical Don Graab said in a statement following the unveiling in Chicago.


David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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