As the natural gas boom continues in the United States, more industries are looking at the fuel's newfound abundance as a way to lower costs. Natural gas prices are so low right now that some energy companies are actually postponing production at wells that have already been drilled because the supply won't be able to bring in a sufficient profit.
As railroad companies begin to build out profit models based on a new fleet of locomotives running on liquefied natural gas, railroad manufacturers like GE are scrambling to come up with efficient engines that embrace this new type of fuel. Since locomotive-based shipping continues to transport a large portion of goods across the continental U.S., any increase in efficiency would help the industry, the energy market and the environment as a whole.
The switch to liquefied natural gas would be the second major fuel transition the railroad industry has seen. While there are trains powered by electricity and even magnets, the majority of long-distance railways in the U.S. are used by diesel-electric locomotives. These types of locomotives took over from the original steam-powered versions beginning just after the turn of the 20th century. While diesel-combustion locomotives provide a more efficient fuel solution than coal-burning steam engines, some experts believe natural gas engines will produce even fewer emissions and increase efficiency.
Not to mention reducing cost.
After all, cost is the only reason the railroad industry would consider making such a massive transition again. Not only would new locomotives need to be commissioned, replacing the bulk of diesel-powered locomotives would also require a great deal of infrastructure across the country. Running locomotives on a mixture of liquefied natural gas and diesel would require each train to add a sizable storage tank and countless fuel stations along the nation's railways.
The potential of railroad companies transitioning their fleets to natural gas poses another opportunity for economic growth in the U.S. As well, finding another major use for the prevalent natural gas resources will undoubtedly help increase the number of active wells.