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Could Natural Gas Enable Longer Intermodal Shipments?

The lower cost of fuel for natural gas-powered highway tractors compared to their diesel-fired brethren could make it more profitable for trucking companies to engage in longer lengths of haul for intermodal shipments.

That’s the viewpoint Jason Kuehn, an associate partner with transportation/railroad consulting firm Oliver Wyman and 20-year railroad industry veteran, expressed recently. “If NG [natural gas] powered tractors win this battle against the clock, the break-even distance for intermodal economics to win could jump from the approximately 500 to 600 miles today to 700 once the truckers achieve critical mass with the application of NG engines,” he said.

Kuehn said that puts the railroads under some competitive pressure to develop NG-fired locomotives themselves, though one of the issues to be resolved before the railroads will be able to run on natural gas involves a federal safety rule currently prohibiting the location of a NG tender car within a locomotive “consist,” which is group of locomotives connected together for multiple-unit (MU) operation.

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