A research initiative by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and Transportation Technology Center, Inc. (TTCI) was developed to better understand the potential cost and benefits of using alternative fuels for United States freight and passenger locomotive operations. The framework for a decision model was developed to evaluate the feasibility of these newly emerging technologies. Because these alternatives (fuels and engine designs) are at early stages of development, the objective is to identify the most feasible alternatives and support their future development.

Energy security policies developed by the US Department of Energy (DOE) and emission standards set forth by US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are driving most of the technology initiatives related to alternative fuels in the US. Identifying alternatives that may provide benefits in the areas of emissions and energy security in relation to their potential cost, safety, and operating efficiencies are the main analysis objectives of this study.

Some of the alternative energy sources being studied, and that may be in limited use are biomass, natural gas and coal. These energy sources have the potential to replace diesel fuel and provide power for locomotive operations. However, most are considered experimental by the railway industry. In most cases engine modifications or complete motive power design changes are required. As a result, the use of alternative fuels or locomotives that are different from current diesel engine designs represent only a small percent of the total railroad fleet. The main drivers for the decision model identified in this research effort are Cost, Energy, Security, Emissions, Safety and Efficiency. Under each decision driver there are multiple criteria that may be used for comparison between proposed alternatives. The goal of the decision model is to understand if the criteria under the decision drivers are independently a cost or benefit to industry stakeholders as compared to a baseline case.

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