On July 18, 2019, the New York State’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act became law. It requires New York to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent by 2030 and no less than 85 percent by 2050 from 1990 levels. The law created a Climate Action Council charged with developing a scoping plan of recommendations to meet these targets and place New York on a path toward carbon neutrality. Civics United for Railroad Environmental Solutions has participated in public meetings about the new law, and in written comments to NYSERDA and the Department of Environmental Conservation on the scoping plan. CURES’ message to New York State about this new law is:

Hey, NYS, do you want to immediately and measurably take action to achieve NYS’ Climate Law goals? Use the $20 million that’s just sitting in Comptroller’s Contract #DR36644 to retool existing locomotives to Tier 4 Switcher emissions for the New York & Atlantic Railway (NYA) to use (as the NYS Legislature intended). And if NYS retools all 40 old freight locomotives operated by NYA and the LIRR, it will eliminate the NOx pollution of a million cars forever. By retooling the old locomotives NYS also will ensure that the locomotives use 40% less fuel and eliminate at least 95% of their pollution. This will improve our community air, health, and quality of life and decrease railroad operating costs.

As the Diesel Technology Forum chart below shows, around 40 old freight locomotives working today in the MTA right of way are so high-polluting that retooling them to current US EPA emissions standards gives NYS a bigger NOx reduction bang for the buck than replacement of the pre-1991 port trucks with 907 Compressed Natural Gas trucks, or replacing the MY2000 buses with 106 Hydrogen or 144 Battery-Electric buses:

NYS draft scope for implementing the new Climate Law includes a strategy to “…support the infrastructure required to shift freight to lower-emission modes, like rail, cargo bikes, and electric trucks.” However, today freight rail in NYS is so old that it actually creates pollution hot spots in communities, and NYS is doing nothing to change that. Railroads made sure that 1970’s “Legacy Fleet” locomotives were excluded from the Clean Air Act. These old locomotives are being used today in Queens Community Board 5 and across NYS. They are not a “low emission mode”, which is why California has taken steps to tax their carbon emissions and eventually ban them from use in that state.

New York State officials like to brag that NYS is a climate leader because the Climate Law was passed. However, NYS is years behind California when it comes to reducing emissions from “Legacy Fleet” locomotives. The California Air Resources Board has studied pollution from railyards, determined there are harms, and developed strategies and taken actions to reduce harms. New York State has not.

The MTA is years behind PANY-NJ, which has been using retooled, near zero emissions Tier 4-i Switcher locomotives at NYNJ Rail in Greenville Yard since 2015. Seven years later, MTA-LIRR work trains and LIRR’s freight rail concessionaire’s locomotives are still almost 100% high-polluting 1970’s technology. Waste Management, a private company, purchased the only Tier 4 locomotive working within the MTA system, which is operated by NYA. Waste Management used its own funds and a US EPA grant obtained by the NYC Economic Development Corporation. The MTA-LIRR refused to participate in the project. Now that the Climate Act has passed, NYS Authorities must take action to eliminate needless locomotive pollution.

Families by NYS freight railyards — from Stillwater/Mechanicville to Fresh Pond Yard — are exposed to pollution and noise from rail yard operations that create health risks. This is because railroads have failed to modernize their fleets to Tier 4 emissions standards, and, unlike California, New York State isn’t doing anything about it. Also, the railroads are hauling unenclosed, landfill-bound waste in containers and rail cars that emit polluting spillage, blowoff, leachate, and odors. Again, New York State hasn’t done anything to end this needless air, land, and water pollution by mandating fully enclosed containment for all waste-by-rail.

In the screenshot on the opposite page, you can see with your own eyes the $20 million in Comptroller’s Contract #DR36644 that could be used to for LIRR to retool locomotives to Tier 4 emissions for its freight rail concessionaire, the New York & Atlantic Railway, to use. Since 2013, Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi has made sure that at least $3M is included in the state budget each year for the purpose of reducing community air pollution from NYA’s old diesel locomotives. That money goes into this Comptroller’s Contract.

Former LIRR President Phil Eng promised Queens state legislators that the Tier 4 retooling paid for by the money in this contract would include the four MP-15s LIRR sold to NYA after the Legislature already had provided enough funding to retool them.

Air pollution creates health risks. Railyard pollution contributes to air pollution and creates health risks. The old smoking locomotives operating within the MTA system undoubtedly are degrading our air quality and hurting our families’ health. Retooling old freight switcher locomotives to Tier 4 emissions saves railroads money because it’s way more cost efficient than buying new, and the retooled locomotives use 40% less fuel.