Evaluation of Rail Decarbonization Alternatives: Framework and Application

Adrian Hernandez, Max T.M. Ng, Nazib Siddique, Pablo L. Durango-Cohen, Amgad Elgowainy, Hani S. Mahmassani*, Michael Wang, Yan Zhou

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The Northwestern University Freight Rail Infrastructure & Energy Network Decarbonization (NUFRIEND) framework is a comprehensive industry-oriented tool for simulating the deployment of new energy technologies including biofuels, e-fuels, battery-electric, and hydrogen locomotives. By classifying fuel types into two categories based on deployment requirements, the associated optimal charging/fueling facility location and sizing problem are solved with a five-step framework. Life-cycle analysis (LCA) and techno-economic analysis (TEA) are used to estimate carbon reduction, capital investments, cost of carbon reduction, and operational impacts, enabling sensitivity analysis with operational and technological parameters. The framework is illustrated on lower-carbon drop-in fuels as well as battery-electric technology deployments for the US Eastern and Western Class I railroad networks. Drop-in fuel deployments are modeled as admixtures with diesel in existing locomotives, while battery-electric deployments are shown for varying technology penetration levels and locomotive ranges. When mixed in a 50% ratio with diesel, results show biodiesel’s capacity to reduce emissions at 36% with a cost of $ 0.13 per kilogram of CO2 reduced, while e-fuels offer a potential reduction of 50% of emissions at a cost of $ 0.22 per kilogram of CO2 reduced. Battery-electric results for 50% deployment over all ton-miles highlight the value of future innovations in battery energy densities as scenarios assuming 800-mi range locomotives show an estimated emissions reduction of 46% with a cost of $ 0.06 per kilogram of CO2 reduced, compared with 16% emissions reduction at a cost of $ 0.11 per kilogram of CO2 reduced for 400-mi range locomotives. The NUFRIEND framework provides a systematic method for comparing different alternative energy technologies and identifying potential challenges and benefits in their future deployments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)102-121
Number of pages20
JournalTransportation Research Record
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2024


  • decarbonization
  • freight systems modeling
  • life-cycle analysis
  • rail and intermodal freight
  • sustainability and resilience
  • transportation energy
  • transportation network modeling and simulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Mechanical Engineering


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