A push to make freight trains more environmentally friendly has led to a Western New York railroad company receiving millions of dollars in federal funding to help pay for new locomotives.
Livonia Avon and Lakeville Railroad has been around for 60 years, which is exactly how long the railroad’s locomotives have been running.
“Thankfully, we've gotten almost 60 years of use out of these engines, which is a really good investment,” said Bob Babcock, L A & L president and CEO. “But they're tired. They're old.”
The thick black smoke that pours out once they start rolling is one of the reasons the old ALCO locomotives are being replaced. That, and the fact that replacement parts are hard to come by. It all comes with a cost.
“Engines are anywhere from $3 to $4 million apiece,” said Babcock. “So it's a very expensive proposition.”
L A & L just received a $12.6 million grant from the Federal Railroad Administration. The funds will help the railroad meet federal Environmental Protection Agency standards — one of four dozen short-line rail projects in 36 states receiving a total of $720 million in FRA money, designed to improve railway infrastructure and safety.
“It’s the right way to go,” said Babcock. “We want to be better stewards.”
Babcock says the grant will cover 70% of the cost of six new locomotives. He says trains are already more environmentally friendly than other means of transportation, because it takes dozens of tractor-trailers to haul the same amount of cargo a train can haul. The railroad hopes to have the new locomotives on the tracks within two to three years.
“They're going to be more fuel efficient and environmentally, the engines today are just so much cleaner,” he said.
Sixty years of hauling sugar, grain, steel and other supplies comes with a lot of nostalgia, which Babcock says creates an issue for some.
“This railroad is pretty popular with the rail fan community, because we have the older engines,” he said. “So there are some people that aren't happy with what we're doing. But it needs to happen.”
Just like the current ones, the new locomotives will still run on diesel. Still rolling along, just cleaner and more efficient.
“It’s going to be a really neat project,” said Babcock. “And our team is really excited to do this.”