Is diesel a climate solution? Amtrak calls new trains ‘very green.’

By Minho Kim | 02/12/2024 06:22 AM EST

The passenger rail company’s 83 new trains use diesel fuel. Amtrak says they’ll cut transportation emissions by expanding rail service.

An Amtrak train departs Freeport, Maine.

An Amtrak train departs Freeport, Maine. The passenger rail company is buying diesel locomotives that it calls "very green." Robert F. Bukaty/AP

When Norman Forde, Amtrak’s vice president of fleet and facilities, called the rail company’s new trains “very green” during a December board meeting, the environmental boast might have seemed odd.

Forde was referring to 83 locomotives that will start operating in 2026 and will run mostly on diesel, one of the most polluting fuels in the world.

But the constraints of U.S. rail seem to confirm Amtrak’s seemingly contradictory characterization of diesel trains as green. The new diesel trains, rail experts say, will consume slightly less fuel than older trains and are the best option for passenger rail to reduce overall carbon emissions by expanding train travel.


“I feel for Amtrak because they are hamstrung,” said Natalie Popovich, a senior adviser for sustainable transportation at the Department of Energy and a research scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.