derail dependance on trash trucks in Northeastern United States by Mike Breslin
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey
has authorized $118 million dollars for the purchase and major
improvements to the 100 year old Greenville Rail Yards in Jersey
City, New Jersey. When completed, this barge-rail link will carry
solid waste across New York Harbor in sealed containers between
Brooklyn and Jersey City.
The plan is projected to remove 360,000 garbage
trucks per year from trans-Hudson River roads, bridges and tunnels.
“The board just approved it so we are still working on the property
acquisition. It is scheduled to be completed and open for business
by 2013,” said Steve Coleman, a spokesman for the port authority.
From Jersey City, via Norfolk Southern Railway
and CSX, cars loaded with waste can then be railroaded long distances
to landfills, thereby cutting highway traffic and road wear.
The trash can be offloaded at landfills actually bidding for
the business in states as far away as Ohio and South Carolina.
This makes a winning concept for New York-New Jersey highway
congestions and one example of why rail is a growing alternative
for solid waste disposal.
Riding the rails for solid waste makes sense
for many communities if they have rail access and can site a
waste transfer station to load waste to rail without causing
traffic, and odor problems for people living near them. “Siting
any facility these days is a problem, but sighting a waste management
facility is especially tough if it’s going to be publicly owned,
whether it’s a rail-haul, transfer station or a truck haul. A
recent transfer station by a town in North Carolina ended without
success because of political and other issues,” said Jeremy O’Brien,
director of applied research at the Solid Waste Association of
North America (SWANA).
Combining loads from several trash trucks
into one rail car or shipping containers for long distance transport
to remote landfills is one answer that makes sense for many cities
– those faced with shrinking local landfill capacity. “Historically,
there’s been a significant growth in rail haul over last 20 years,
but it has not taken over,” said O’Brien. “From my experience,
I would say there are only about 10 to 20 places around the country
where it’s being done.”
Rail versus trucking cost conundrum
CSX Railroad touts in its advertising – “Trains
can move a ton of freight 423 miles on one gallon of diesel fuel.”
This, of course, depends on what class of tonnage at what rate
is being moved and how far. This hyperbolic claim is obviously
an extreme example to show that train transport over long distances
is cheaper than trucking.
But all the comparisons of rail versus truck
transport costs go out the window when it comes to moving municipal
solid waste by rail. It’s done on a case by case basis. Kristi
Small, manager of rail and logistics operations at Republic Services
provided insight as to how rates are established with railroads
– “We tell them our origin and destination, and how many tons
we plan to ship per day. Then we start negotiating the transportation
rate. Often one railroad doesn’t handle the entire move, you
are on multiple lines, involving short line railroads to get
to your destination, many times crossing state lines. From my
experience, most rates are negotiated by the car type and volume
commitment, then the waste stream commodity is confirmed.”
While the actual rail transportation rate
is a major cost consideration, the transfer infrastructure and
labor costs at both ends of the line have to make economic sense.
Republic, which is one of the largest nationwide waste handling
companies, employs several transfer strategies. The oldest, most
basic are open-topped (sometimes covered) gondola cars conventionally
loaded, often compacted at the point of origin and machine excavated
from the car at point of destination, loaded into rubber-tired
vehicles for movement to the working face of the landfill. In
Price, Utah, Republic operates one of the few rotary gondola
car systems in the country. Only a few exist because of the large
infrastructure costs involved. In the rotary operation, cars
are disconnected from the train, and the tracks along with the
railcar are rotated to empty contents onto a tipping floor similar
to a transfer station. The waste is loaded into articulated dump
trucks for landfilling. The emptied car and tracks are realigned
with the train and the next car moves into position to be handled.
Intermodal containerization of waste continues
to grow due to its logistical flexibility and the sanitary benefits
of containing litter, odor and leakage. At the Travis Rail Yard
in Staten Island, New York, Republic uses an AMFAB compactor
that creates a load of waste that is compressed to fit the rail
container. “It’s a very clean operation for loading 20 foot containers
that carry on average 20 tons of municipal solid waste,” said
Small. From Staten Island, these containers travel 993 miles
to a landfill in South Carolina.
Tighter regulations and shrinking landfills
O’Brien attributed the significant growth
since the early 1990s to Subtitle D landfill regulations of the
Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) when as a nation
we went from local, more publicly owned landfills, to larger
more regional and mostly privately held landfills. “We went from
about 10,000 solid waste landfills in the early 1990s to about
City and suburban landfills are not only
fewer, but also filling up faster and building a new one in a
populated area these days is virtually impossible. Beside a local
solid waste-to-energy (WTE) solution, city planners and sanitation
districts are facing longer hauls, either by truck or by rail.
Los Angeles County waste-by-rail
Beginning the late 1980s, the Los Angeles
County Sanitation Districts (LACSD) along with other public agencies,
began studying ways to cope with a projected shortfall in local
solid waste landfill capacity. LACSD operate a comprehensive
solid waste management system serving the needs of a large portion
of Los Angeles County. This system includes sanitary landfills,
recycle centers, and materials recovery/transfer facilities.
As planning for disposal capacity proceeded,
public opposition grew to siting new or expanding existing landfills
in Los Angeles Basin. Sites farther away began to look more desirable
despite higher costs for longer transport distances. “We projected
we would need more remote disposal sites. A study was done as
to the breaking point where it was no longer economical to haul
waste by truck and it’s right around 200 miles,” said Connie
Christian, LACSD senior project engineer.
All these factors convinced LACSD to start
building an ambitious, integrated system of local and remote
infrastructure called “Waste-by-Rail.”
“A lot of the planning is based on having
capacity available if it’s needed to field the shortfall from
the closure of our Puente Hills Landfill in November of 2013,”
said Christian. Owned and operated by LACSD, Puente Hills is
located in Whittier, California and is currently the largest
landfill in the country permitted to accept approximately 13,000
tons per day.
When the Puente Hills materials recovery
facility (MRF) was built in 2005, it was designed with a tipping
room floor that allowed for overhead loading of containers destined
for rail shipment. Waste is delivered to the MRF and sorted for
recyclable material, the residual material is placed in containers
parked under the tipping floor which will be compacted, sealed
and trucked a short distance to the rail loading yard.
Last year, LACSD completed construction of
the key component of its waste-by-rail system, the new Mesquite
Regional Landfill in Imperial County, California. It’s operational,
but no waste is being delivered as of this writing.
Located approximately 200 miles from the
Puente Hills MRF, Mesquite Regional Landfill is permitted to
accept 20,000 tons per day mostly delivered by rail from outside
Imperial County. It can accept deliveries from within Imperial
County, but that has not occurred primarily because Imperial
does not generate a large volume at this time. (Imperial, located
in the southeast corner of the state bordering Arizona and Mexico
is 4,482 square miles with a population of 165,000).
The Mesquite Regional Landfill and the Puente
Hills MRF are both close to the Union Pacific Railroad (UPRR)
mainline. LACSD is currently constructing a dedicated subsurface
access road under a county road and UPRR railroad tracks to allow
direct off street access between the Puente Hills MRF and the
new rail yard under construction. Other MRFs may also send containers
to the rail yard.
LACSD’s new rail yard has been under construction
since late 2009 and is scheduled for completion in mid 2012.
The project consists of three-miles of staging tracks on the
UPRR right of way, a 17 acre rail yard, and all the necessary
equipment to maintain and load 40 foot containers on and off
rail cars. When it becomes operational, plans call for up to
two trains per day carrying a total of approximately 8,000 tons
At the Mesquite Regional Landfill, the rail
spur and rail yard is under construction and will be similar
to the Puente Hills rail yard. Containers will be hauled by truck
from the local rail yard to the landfill face for unloading
Mesquite has a total estimated capacity of
600 million tons and will be equipped with a gas recovery system.
“Today there is enough capacity within the
county. There are a lot of variables to the amount of waste being
disposed and we have seen tonnage fluctuates with market conditions.”
The LACSD waste-by-rail system is expected
to cost approximately $500 million dollars.
Short-haul rail solutions
While long hauls of solid waste by rail may
be the future for the dwindling landfill capacities of urban
areas such as New York and Los Angeles, shorter rail routes to
waste-to-energy (WTE) plants can also reduce waste highway traffic
as well as provide renewable energy.
For example, Montgomery County, Maryland’s
resource recovery facility began commercial operation in 1995.
This WTE plant processes an average of 1,500 tons per day of
solid waste that generates up to 55 megawatts of renewable energy.
All the waste feeding the plant is shipped by rail from only
22 miles away, but rail delivery virtually eliminated waste truck
traffic on the roads associated with the facility. For Montgomery
County, located just north of Washington, D.C. and southwest
of Baltimore, reducing traffic is a high priority.
All the waste destined for the plant arrives
by truck at a transfer station in Derwood, Maryland, compacted
into intermodal steel containers and loaded onto railcars with
gantry cranes. Each day CSX assembles a train that makes the
22 mile trip to the resource recovery facility that is located
in Dickerson, Maryland. There the containers are off-loaded at
the on site rail yard and trucked to the plant’s enclosed refuse
building for processing and energy recovery. Residue from the
WTE process is loaded into sealed containers and shipped by rail
to a landfill located in Brunswick, Virginia.
The bottom line for waste by train
When weighing the total costs and environmental
impact of rail transport against trucking solid waste, a universe
of related factors must be evaluated including fuel costs, emissions,
local road and highway congestion, pavement wear and tear, safety
and land use, just to mention a few.
While estimates differ, trains are roughly
three times more fuel-efficient than trucks and release fewer
emissions. At the same time, trucks are becoming more fuel efficient
and emit fewer pollutants. Proposals like the Pickens Plan may
emerge to transition diesel powered trucks to natural gas that
burns cleaner and could become price competitive with diesel
fuel. Trucks are also flexible to changing route needs and can
easily move to landfills offering the most attractive locations
or lowest tipping fees.
Private companies operating waste-to-rail
transfer stations usually operate more efficiently than government
agencies and can respond faster to market demands.
As we have seen from the Port Authority of
New York and New Jersey, and the Los Angeles County Sanitation
Districts projects, investments of hundreds of millions are required
to build dedicated infrastructure. For large, dense metropolitan
areas it appears that waste-by-rail to the boondocks, or local
rail to waste-to-energy plants is the in the offing.
In the end, taxpayers foot the bill for waste
disposal and their voices will be heard loud and clear whenever
the subject of trucking versus rail comes to the floor for debate.
There are sound arguments for both sides.