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CSX Lays Tracks For the Future of Sustainable Railroads

Railroad operator CSX Transportation traces its roots to an era when railroads were the literal engine of the American economy. Its predecessor companies – including the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, Western Maryland Railway, and Chesapeake and Ohio Railway – all began operating during the 1800s when the country depended on trains for rapid delivery of cargo. 

Today, CSX and its subsidiaries provide rail-based freight transportation services along a 20,000-mile rail network, mostly east of the Mississippi River and as far north as the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec. Key end markets include energy, industrial, construction, agriculture, and consumer products. CSX is one of seven Class I railroads in North America and one of the biggest, with around $12 billion in annual revenue.

Although CSX is a modern company with plenty of whiz-bang technology to keep things running smoothly, its dependence on old-fashioned trains gives it a leg up in at least one respect: it, and other railroads, leave a much smaller carbon footprint than alternative shipping methods like trucks and planes.

As CSX points out on its website, trains on average are three to four times more fuel-efficient than trucks and produce up to 75% fewer greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This not only gives an environmental advantage to rail companies, but it also helps customers lower their own carbon footprints. CSX goes into detail about its sustainability program in its annual Environmental, Social, and Governance Report, which provides an update on the company’s economic, workforce, environmental, and social impacts.

CSX’s environmental progress has earned it high marks from industry insiders. In February, it was named the Most Sustainable Company in the Logistics Industry as part of World Finance magazine’s 2019 Sustainability Awards. That news was followed by the October announcement that CSX’s Meaghan Atkinson was awarded the 2020 Professional Environmental Excellence Award by the Association of American Railroads (AAR) – the industry’s highest honor for environmental professionals. Atkinson, a nine-year CSX veteran, serves as the company’s Manager-Environmental Programs. She’s heading up the effort to reduce CSX’s Scope 1 and 2 GHG intensity by 37.3% per million gross ton-miles by 2029 from a 2014 base year. 

This American company — headquartered in Jacksonville, FL — has made a number of moves in recent years to adopt a more sustainability-focused business model. In 2017, it underwent a transformation designed to improve reliability, customer service, safety, and environmental efficiency. One result is that CSX has been able to lower its fuel usage and emissions by converting more road miles to rail miles.

The company’s sustainability focus includes a few key areas:

Carbon Pollution

Between 2017 and 2019, CSX invested $24 million in fuel efficiency measures, including increasing its automation and streamlining its locomotive use. The company recorded its highest-ever fuel efficiency in 2019 — an increase of more than 7% from 2016.

CSX has also partnered with the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi), an organization dedicated to limiting the impact of the changing climate. Through this partnership, CSX has committed to reducing GHG intensity emissions by more than one-third between 2014 and 2030. CSX was the first U.S. railroad to partner with SBTi.

This year, CSX has worked to implement the Meet Pass Planner (MPP) locomotive monitoring technology, which determines the least fuel-intensive action for two approaching trains and integrates automatic control functions that allow for a train’s pace to be controlled remotely. Meanwhile, CSX continues to reduce the amount of diesel it consumes each year. The company is collaborating with industry partners to research and identify alternative fuel solutions for future use.

Recycling, Reuse, and Waste Disposal

Most of the waste CSX generates – mainly scrap track materials, tires, and batteries – comes from locomotive and equipment maintenance needed for ongoing operations. The company produces thousands of tons of recycled material each year and works to recycle as much as it can before the rest ends up in the landfill. 

To reduce its office waste, CSX instituted an electronics waste buyback program in partnership with Urban Mining. As part of the program, CSX collects and separates e-waste so that it can be refurbished, resold, or recycled. By the end of 2019, the program had collected 8,300 devices and successfully diverted more than 630,000 pounds of waste away from landfills. More than 70% of discarded laptops and 50% of discarded desktops were refurbished and either resold or donated. Nearly 98% of retired electronic assets were processed, resold, or recycled in 2019.

In addition to its sustainability program, CSX operates a community engagement program that includes Pride in Service, which aims to provide financial and other assistance to more than 100,000 U.S. military members, veterans, first responders, and their families. As part of the initiative, CSX partners with leading veteran, military, and first responder organizations. Founding partners include Blue Star Families, Operation Gratitude, Operation Homefront, the First Responders Children’s Foundation, and the Wounded Warrior.

An example of the kind of support they have offered are the  28 scholarships they awarded to children of fallen or injured servicemen and servicewomen, which CSX funded in partnership with the First Responders Children’s Foundation. The company also worked with Operation Homefront to provide more than 1,000 critical-relief grants to help ease the financial pressures faced by needy families.


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