By Justin Mikulka
November 14, 2019
AÂ recent paper analyzing the major players in the organized efforts to attack climate change science and delay action had a surprising revelation â the biggest contributing industry/sector was not oil and gas but rail/steel/coal with the most active organization in the climate denial movement being the Association of American Railroads (AAR).
In the paper,Â Networks of Opposition: A Structural Analysis ofÂ U.S.Â Climate Change Countermovement Coalitions 1989-2015,Â author Robert Brulle, looks at âkey political coalitions that worked to oppose climate action. In conjunction with their allied trade associations, these coalitions have served as a central coordination mechanism in efforts opposed to mandatory limits on carbonÂ emissions.â
And the allied trade association that was most active was theÂ AAR. Why would the rail industry care about climate change and be active in promoting denial?Â Coal.
Coal has historically been the biggest business forÂ U.S.Â rail, and still generates over 16% ofÂ Class 1Â rail revenue in 2018,Â according to theÂ AAR.Â Without coal theÂ U.S.Â rail industry has a major revenue problem âÂ which explains the decades of climate denial activity documented in this newÂ paper.
Of course, theÂ U.S.Â coal industry is in serious decline despite all of the climate denialism funded by the rail and coal industries. Moodyâs has estimated that the rail industry is facing a loss ofÂ $5 billionÂ in coal revenues (from current levels of approximately $10 billion) byÂ 2030.
That reality hasnât stopped theÂ AARÂ from continuing to push coal while not acknowledging climate change. In aÂ May 2019 publicationÂ on rail and coal, theÂ AARÂ fails to mention climate change while also touting debunked ideas likeÂ âclean coalâÂ as potential lifelines for the dying coalÂ industry.
— AAR (@AAR_FreightRail) January 10, 2017
AARÂ and History of ScienceÂ Denial
In my book,Â Bomb Trains: How Industry Greed and Regulatory Failure Put the Public at Risk,Â I document how theÂ AARÂ has a history of adopting the climate change denial model of attacking known science to delay, deny andÂ repealÂ safety regulations. This is the model that worked well for the tobacco industry and continues to be an effective method for lobbyists like theÂ AARÂ to work with members of Congress and regulators to prioritize corporate profits over publicÂ safety.
Much like howÂ Exxon knewÂ the science of climate change long before it started spending big money to mislead the public about that reality, the rail industry and theÂ AAR have done the same with safety measures like modern electronically controlled pneumatic (ECP)Â brakes.
As I have documented for DeSmog, the rail industry and theÂ AARÂ and regulators at the Federal Railroad AdministrationÂ all have agreedÂ that, based on the research,Â ECPÂ brakes are far superior to the current brakes used on oilÂ trains.
UntilÂ new regulationsÂ were proposed to requireÂ those brakes on oil trains in the future. Then theÂ AARÂ and industry just changed the story and said there was no science supporting the safety benefits ofÂ ECPÂ brakes âÂ after years of being on record saying the opposite. In one case lobbyists for theÂ AARÂ were in Washington,Â D.C. lobbying against modern brakes while a derailedÂ oil train wasÂ still burning inÂ Illinois.
TheÂ AARÂ even ran ads on Google attacking the facts ofÂ ECPÂ brakes.
And perhaps the most egregious example is the rail industry working with the American Petroleum Institute toÂ deny the known scienceÂ of oil that is the reason oil trains are known as bomb trains. The oil industry claims it doesnâtÂ understand the science of oilÂ âÂ one of the great science denial claims of all time âÂ and as with all such claims it is about putting profits over safety. The rail industry learned this lessonÂ well.
Climate Change Will Wreak Havoc WithÂ Rail
While the rail industry has worked to protect its financial interests by supporting climate denial efforts, it also is an industry that is facing huge climate related challenges âÂ well beyond just the loss of its coalÂ business.
In March, the journal Transport Policy published the paperÂ Impacts of Climate change on Operation ofÂ USÂ Rail NetworksÂ that estimated the costs of temperature increases due to climate change could reach $45 to $60 billion byÂ 2100.
Temperatures extremes âÂ both hot and cold âÂ cause big problems for railroads because metal rails donât react well to extreme temperatures. The industry has known for years aboutÂ âsun kinksâÂ which is the term for when metal rails buckle in extreme heat which can cause trainÂ derailments.
In July, Mashable featured the issue of heat and railroads and the outlook wasnâtÂ good.
âThis is not a problem thatâs going away,â Paul Chinowsky, a civil engineer at the University of Colorado Boulder and author of the Transport Policy paper,Â told Mashable. Chinowsky also noted that rail companies are already stopping traffic during the hottest times of the day in places like Virginia and Arizona. And the article notes the many problems for rail caused by the record heat wave in Europe this summer.
Just this week, Alex Hynes, the managing director of Scotlandâs railway, admittedÂ the reality of rail and climate changeÂ when he stated that, âThe railway in this country can no longer cope because of climateÂ change.â
UK railways cannot cope with climate change, says rail boss https://t.co/MYumpd9nif
— The Guardian (@guardian) November 7, 2019
Flooding on theÂ Tracks
Extreme temperatures are not the only climate related problem facing the railroads. Due to the favorable topography, rail lines tend to follow bodies of water and often travel along lakes, rivers and the ocean putting much of the rail infrastructure at risk of extreme weather causing flooding and sea level rise floodingÂ tracks.
One well known risk is the Northeast Corridor of Amtrak âÂ the busiest stretch of track in the country that runs from Boston to Washington,Â D.C.Â âÂ which is at risk ofÂ chronic flooding dueÂ to sea levelÂ rise.
Despite theÂ clear evidenceÂ of the risks supported by a study that Bloomberg was able to acquire via a Freedom of Information request last year, Stepen Garder, Amtrak executive vice president and chief commercial officer,Â told BloombergÂ that âWe donât see any fundamental risks to the integrity of theÂ corridor.â
The reason given to Bloomberg why Amtrak didn’t release the report to the public was that âit could possibly cause public confusion.âÂ If the public is confused about the reality of climate change and sea-level rise the rail industry andÂ AARÂ are a big part of the reasonÂ why.
Despite some attempts to continue to deny reality, the rail industry can’t hide from the factsÂ forever.
On the website forÂ rail company Union PacificÂ it acknowledges that âthe Earth’s climate is changingâ and then lists some of the potential risks including, âextreme weather events, such as blizzards, floods and hurricanesâ as well as âthe impact of potential sea levelÂ rise.â
The rail industry has a big climate problem that is going to cost it huge amounts of money and present some potentially unsolveable problems like, âWhere do you relocate the busiest section of track in the country when it floods?âÂ The answer to that question is essentially â¦Â youÂ canât.
The rail industry engaged in short term thinking with its support of climate denial and now coal is dying and the bill is going to come due for the reality of climate change as it wreaks havoc on the railÂ industry.
Andrew Quinn, a civil engineer at the University of Birmingham and lead author on the paperÂ Rail Adapt: Adapting the railway for the futureÂ summed up the new reality of how railways can no longer deny climateÂ change.
âEvery decision [rail companies] make should take into account climate change,âÂ said Quinn.Â âThis is an ongoingÂ thing.â
The rail industry should stop wasting money on science denial because it will need every last dollar to deal with the looming climate-related crises itÂ faces.
* This article was expanded from original source published by DeSmog Blog.