I’m typically skeptical about claims that the conversion to electric propulsion is a “zero emission” achievement, in large part due to the widespread reliance upon fossil fuels in the production of electricity. However, I do find CN’s recent commitment, expressed by  CN President and CEO Jean-Jacques Ruest and reported by Railway Age as follows:

“CN’s pledge to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 further builds upon our commitment to short-, medium- and long-term targets, robust and transparent climate change disclosures, and our goal to continue to lead our sector in the transition to a low-carbon economy. CN has a strong track record of fuel and carbon efficiency and, in 2020, achieved its best locomotive fuel efficiency ever—over 4% better than the previous record set in 2019—which avoided approximately 275,000 tons of emissions. We will continue to decarbonize our operations and, in turn, will enable our customers to reduce their transportation supply chain emissions and support their and our growth in sustainable products and markets.”

Railway Age also reported: “In related developments, CN and Progress Rail have announced that they are partnering with Renewable Energy Group “to test high-level renewable fuel blends including both biodiesel and renewable diesel in support of the companies’ sustainability goals.” Also, CN is buying a Wabtec FLXdrive battery-electric locomotive for use on the Bessemer & Lake Erie portion of its network in Pennsylvania.”

This makes sense to us, a combination of alternative fuels in combination with electric power. For CN, electric power is bolstered in our view by the widespread prevalence of hydro generation in Canada. Further, CN is pushing this projected accomplishment to 2050, which quite reasonably provides time to resolve and address the technical challenges associated with this effort.