skip to main content

→ Top Stories:
Clean Power plan
Safe Chemicals

Diane Bailey’s Blog

Moving Forward: A Modern Freight System for California that can cut pollution and lower impacts in freight-side communities.

Diane Bailey

Posted January 21, 2014

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Share | | |

Soccer trucks.jpgWhat if parents of asthmatic kids in freight impacted communities like West Oakland, Wilmington and Riverside could breathe a little easier knowing that they no longer have to endure hundreds of dirty diesel trucks in their communities? Measures detailing how we could accomplish that were released in a new report today, Moving California Forward: Zero and Low-Emission Freight Pathways.  The report was commissioned by NRDC together with roughly 20 other community, environmental justice, health and green groups who make up the California Cleaner Freight Coalition. Our Coalition, CCFC, is working for transformational changes in the way we move our goods in California to protect the public’s health, clean the environment, and promote social justice and equity.

Look around your home and chances are that you bought much of the food you eat and the goods you use from local stores, but these goods came from far-away places in cargo containers by some combination of trucks, trains and ships. While our current freight transportation system allows a dizzying array of products to reach consumers quickly, it exacts a damaging toll on the dozens of communities that shipping containers go through before the products reach store shelves.  Despite decades of improvements to diesel engines and measures to clean up transportation, diesel pollution from the freight industry continues to contribute to higher asthma rates, elevated cancer risks and far too much illness in neighborhoods around marine port terminals, rail yards, distribution centers and truck routes.  But, what if we could change that?

What if we could replace dirty trucks hauling shipping containers with trucks that don’t even have a tailpipe?  It turns out that there are four different ways to move goods a short distance without any pollution whatsoever in the communities the goods travel through.  Battery electric trucks, plug-in hybrid electric trucks, fuel cell trucks, and fixed-guideway shuttles all offer zero-emission transport solutions over short distances.  When overall power use is considered, all of these technologies outperform the cleanest diesel truck available, reducing ninety percent more smog- and soot-forming pollution (nitrogen oxides - NOx and particulate matter - PM) and global warming pollution (greenhouse gases - GHGs).


What if we could eliminate the trucks that shuttle our goods between ships and trains?  It turns out that eliminating that extra truck trip, as many ports have started doing, can reduce up to 70 percent or more of NOx, PM and GHGs.

What if we could take trucks off congested freeways transiting the San Joaquin Valley and put them on clean trains instead?  It turns out that doing so would cut pollution from those trucks in half in this already over-burdened region that suffers from some of the highest asthma rates in the nation.

What if we could electrify major rail lines, eliminating the dirty diesel locomotives that run through our cities?  It turns out that electrifying a 25 mile stretch of rail through Los Angeles would reduce pollution from those trains by 94 percent or more.

Moving California Forward contains a technical analysis of dozens of measures that, if implemented, would dramatically reduce pollution from the freight sector.  We have an opportunity to leave fossil fuel pollution behind and move California forward with modern, clean transportation technology.  But how?  The California Air Resources Board is slated to kick off a Sustainable Freight Initiative this Thursday at their board hearing in Sacramento.  Come to the hearing or write the Air Board to let them know if you support moving California forward to zero emission freight transportation.

If the freight sector is part of the economic backbone of our state, the communities alongside freight centers are our lungs, and they need relief from ongoing pollution.  Isn’t it time we leave fossil fuels behind for a cleaner, modern transportation system?

Share | | |


Noel BraymerJan 21 2014 01:22 PM

Your story is all well and good, but you don't know much about rail service. There is almost no local inter California freight service because it isn't economical. The big money is for interstate or international rail freight. Much of the Rail Freight shipped in California is from the Ports of LA/Long Beach for across the country.

The current rail route between LA and Bakersfield is 170 miles with top speeds often around 25 miles per hour. It can take 5 hours or more to go by train on this route. It is only 100 miles by freeway. A new rail connection would be needed to make freight service competitive with trucks.

The only new rail route being planned is for High Speed Passenger Rail. There are no plans to run freight on this route when and if it gets built. Freight often shares High Speed Rail in other countries, But to do this in California for intra California freight would need carriers other than the existing railroads who wouldn't be interested in short haul traffic.

wayne wJan 21 2014 07:43 PM

Moving freight by rail sounds good but how do you get it from rail to point of distribution? Then what do you do with the thousands of people you put out of work? Next do you really think smog is going away just because you take a few thousand trucks off the road? What about all the non point polution you get from trains like steel dust in the air, the smog generated by traffic jams from a slow moving train, tying up traffic for hours while it slowly moves up the tracks crossing roads that are not elevated? and who's going to pay for this train it's not going to be the railroad!

Diane BaileyJan 25 2014 05:26 PM

Both Wayne and Noel make good points. We need improvements to rail infrastructure and new sources of revenue to implement these clean freight measures. We also need to sit down with rail companies and other experts to figure out these solutions. ARB's kick-off of a Sustainable Freight Initiative this week is great step towards tackling these issues. They committed to working closely with other agencies and stakeholders including coordination with the DOT led California Freight Advisory Committee, of which I and some 70 other stakeholders are members. It's time to get to work upgrading our freight system.

Comments are closed for this post.


Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit

Feeds: Stay Plugged In