Increasing Fuel Efficiency

Diesel fuel accounts for more than 20 percent of operating expenses, so improving fuel efficiency is important because of its impact on the bottom line, as well as the environment. In 2000, on average, we moved a ton of freight 375 miles on one gallon of diesel fuel. In 2010, our fuel efficiency peaked at 495 miles per gallon. In 2013, our efficiency rate was 471 miles per gallon. Working to improve this, we approach fuel efficiency in our locomotive fleet through a three-pronged approach: engaging employees, improving operations and incorporating technology.

Engaging Employees

The employees operating our locomotives are critical to reducing the amount of fuel we use. Through simulator training and peer coaching, locomotive engineers are honing their train operating techniques. Additionally, the employee-driven Fuel Masters Unlimited conservation program provides incentives for fuel-saving efforts. Union Pacific also continues to implement and test onboard Energy Management Systems. Among the most advanced are:

  • LEADER (Locomotive Engineer Assist/Display and Event Recorder): LEADER analyzes train operations through advanced GPS maps and provides throttle and brake prompts. It notifies the locomotive engineer of the train’s position and displays track topology, train trajectory, break system status and in-train forces. Initial tests showed a 3 percent improvement in fuel savings. Since its rollout in late 2012, LEADER has been installed on 347 locomotives. In 2013, LEADER ran more than 6 million route miles, primarily on loaded coal trains in the Northern Region, and it will be installed on 900 more locomotives in 2014.
  • Trip Optimizer (TO): Similar to a vehicle’s cruise control system, TO automatically controls a locomotive’s throttle, which helps keep trains on schedule while minimizing fuel use. The TO system calculates the most efficient way of running by considering such factors as train length, weight, grade, track conditions, weather and locomotive performance. Currently, 60 Trip Optimizer units are in use.
Union Pacific Energy Consumption*
Diesel1,103.8 gallons1,103.5 gallons
Gasoline12.1 gallons12.9 gallons
Other Fuel8.6 gallons13.8 gallons
Electricity603.5 kilowatt hours652.9 kilowatt hours
Natural Gas1,000.8 standard cubic feet761.8 standard cubic feet
*Estimated in millions

Improving Operations

Since 2000, Union Pacific has invested approximately $6.75 billion to purchase more than 3,800 locomotives that meet the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Tier 0, Tier 1, Tier 2 or Tier 3 guidelines. During this time period, Union Pacific retired more than 2,900 older less-efficient locomotives and overhauled or rebuilt more than 5,400 diesel engines with emissions control upgrades. Additionally, 92 percent of our locomotives are certified under existing U.S. EPA Tier 0, Tier 1, Tier 2 or Tier 3 emissions standards, which progressively add more stringent limits on engine air emissions. Our investments in new “switching” locomotives, which are designed to move trains or cars within a rail yard, also have helped improve fuel efficiency.

Evaluating Alternative Fuels

Union Pacific has evaluated alternative fuels for more than half a century including bio-diesel, propane, liquefied natural gas (LNG) and hydrogen. Union Pacific is the only major railroad worldwide with extensive gas turbine experience, and in 1952, the company kicked off a project using gas turbine-electric locomotives. We are once again studying the benefits of converting diesel locomotives to LNG fuel, which emits fewer greenhouse gas emissions than diesel fuel. Through testing and analysis, we will determine whether it is a commercially reliable and economical option. See Union Pacific and Liquefied Natural Gas for factors being considered. Union Pacific currently chairs the Association of American Railroads (AAR) team that is preparing performance standards for LNG fuel tenders (including safety and interoperability requirements for the nation’s rail network). We also are working closely with locomotive and engine manufacturers, cryogenic fuel tank suppliers and natural gas/LNG suppliers.