Home News Advocates call for new limits on freight train emissions

Advocates call for new limits on freight train emissions

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Taylor Thomas was diagnosed with severe asthma at the age of 7.

Growing up in Long Beach, California, she needed inhalers and nebulizers and often had to miss recess.

Still, Thomas said it wasn’t until she was in her early 20s that she learned that living in an area with multiple sources of air pollution, including a freight train yard, had put her at higher risk for illness.

“We get told that this is normal,” said Thomas, co-director of East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice in Southern California. “We’re supposed to expect … that our kids will regularly be in the hospital, that they will regularly miss school, that we will have to go to work sick.”

Thomas spoke Wednesday at a meeting in Chicago, where grassroots advocates from across the country called for stricter limits on diesel-exhaust emissions from freight trains.

Also present were some members of a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency subcommittee who are looking into the issue, a smattering of local politicians, and Democratic Congressman Jesús “Chuy” García, who delivered the opening remarks.

“We must do more to protect the health of rail workers and (frontline) communities and close the existing loopholes that rail carriers exploit to keep dirty trains on the tracks,” Garcia said.

The “loophole” critics frequently reference is the industry practice of repairing and rebuilding locomotives, rather than purchasing new ones that are subject to very strict emissions standards.

The Association of American Railroads said that  “remanufacturing” locomotives by modernizing key parts is a way to make the locomotives more fuel-efficient and reliable.

“EPA regulations govern this process and the certification of these locomotives to ensure they meet the appropriate emissions standards,” Association of American Railroads Assistant Vice President for Communications Jessica Kahanek said in a written statement.

The statement said the railroads have taken numerous steps to increase their sustainability, including introducing highly advanced fuel management systems and installing idling-reduction technologies.

The Wednesday meeting was sponsored by the Moving Forward Network — a national, grassroots-led environmental organization that seeks to reduce pollution from the freight transportation system — as well as several of the network’s affiliates.

Taylor Thomas, who was diagnosed with severe asthma at the age of seven, spoke at a meeting in Chicago of grassroots advocates from across the country calling for stricter limits on diesel-exhaust emissions from freight trains, May 31, 2024. (E. Jason Wambsgans/Chicago Tribune)
Taylor Thomas, who was diagnosed with severe asthma at the age of 7, is shown May 31, 2024. Taylor spoke at a recent meeting in Chicago of grassroots advocates from across the country calling for stricter limits on diesel-exhaust emissions from freight trains. (E. Jason Wambsgans/Chicago Tribune)

Earlier in the day, the EPA held a Chicago-area rail yard tour for members of the EPA subcommittee that’s researching the freight-train emissions issue.

As the nation’s busiest rail hub, Chicago figures prominently in the advocates’ push to update the EPA’s 16-year-old freight locomotive emissions standards.



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