Natural Gas Trains & Trucks Coming Through

Don Roessler discusses the impacts natural gas is having on the trucking and railroad industries, specifically the decision to convert many of these vehicles to compressed natural gas (CNG).

Since this is my first time writing for this website, I’d like to give you a little background before I begin so you can have a better understanding of my interest in natural gas and it’s use as a fuel source for the trucking and railroad industries. My roots are in Washington County, Pa. where the natural gas industry has been around about as long as my family.

I am a descendant of Rev. Dr. John McMillan, one of the early pioneers of Canonsburg, Pa., who started Jefferson College in Canonsburg, which later merged with the Washington College in Washington Pa. to become what we know now as W.& J. College. My occupation of choice was as a mechanic who worked on everything from weed-eaters to the biggest bulldozer made by Caterpillar. I have also worked at several other occupations through the years. I now focus all my time on taking care of my farm and selling home grown produce when possible. The natural gas industry has helped me to pay the bills when the produce doesn’t.

I am also a member of both The American Truck Historical Society and The Antique Truck Club of America, which is why the decision by this industry to convert from diesel to natural gas or CNG is such an interesting occurrence to me. Waste Management, a company of which we are all aware, has been leading the way for the trucking industry to switch from diesel to cleaner burning natural gas.

Here is a quote from  The Wall Street Journal:

Photo by Alison Yin for The Wall Street Journal

Rising diesel costs last year forced Waste Management Inc. WM +1.33% to charge customers an extra $169 million, just to keep its garbage trucks fueled. This year, the nation’s biggest trash hauler has a new defensive strategy: it is buying trucks that will run on cheaper natural gas.

In fact, the company says 80% of the trucks it purchases during the next five years will be fueled by natural gas. Though the vehicles cost about $30,000 more than conventional diesel models, each will save $27,000-a-year or more in fuel, says Eric Woods, head of fleet logistics for Waste Management. By 2017, the company expects to burn more natural gas than diesel.

The video featured in the beginning of the article, and found below, is very interesting so make sure you watch it too.


And, it’s not just the trucking industry looking for ways to reduce costs and emissions, and considering natural gas as a viable solution. Railroad companies are now looking at using CNG as a fuel to power their locomotives. According to this article from The San Francisco Chronicle, the Canadian National Railroad has built an experimental locomotive that will run on a combination of CNG and Diesel to test to see if it will be feasable. This technology has been around for years as the Napa Valley Railroad, a scenic railroad in California, has two locomotives that run on CNG. One runs on a combination of CNG and the other runs on straight CNG. This is another step forward in reducing emissions being pumped into the atmosphere.

The Canadian National Railway is experimenting with natural gas as a train fuel, which involves adding a liquefied natural gas tank behind the locomotive. The switch from diesel could save money. Photo: Canadian National Railway/San Francisco Chronicle

I pulled a couple of quotes from the article that add an interesting twist in the story:

“On a 300-mile stretch of railroad in the plains of eastern Alberta, a test train  chugs across the landscape burning a fuel that once made sense only  to environmentalists.”

“Although natural gas is a fossil fuel that contributes to emissions, many environmentalists have long supported it as a cleaner-burning bridge fuel toward  renewable energy sources. “

Seems that some of the environmentalists are for using natural gas as an alternative fuel. Imagine that!!

As some of these major users of fuel convert to products like natural gas, it is going to help both the American economy and our environment, and that’s something we should all stand behind.


  1. Victor Furman says:

    Thank you for sharing I enjoyed your family history and your thoughts. Right now CNG is about 97 cents per gallon btu equivalent to gasoline. That price makes CNG Vehicles very attractive but in a meeting tonight, I did hear an oil man who is now building pipelines talk about the price difference and why were not seeing large investments to put in CNG filling stations which he stated cost around 1 million apiece. They are waiting primarily on the states to see what tax rate they will put on CNG per gallon. I am not sure if I heard him right but I believe he said about $2.28 per gallon of gas cost is taxes. Ultimately from what I heard at tonight’s seminar was that it all depends on the state & federal politicians and how much they tax CNG. This will decide if Natural Gas will replace oil as our transport fuel. Think about that! our politicians here in NY have held up N/G exploration & developement based on largly unfounded environmental concerns. Those against N/G say they want to protect the environment. If CNG was to become the main transport fuel in the USA the benifits of the cleaner fuel would be huge and immediate. Those against CNG marketing would have to eat their thoughts. But the future of CNG is going to be decided by how much the goverment can tax us on CNG. That will dictate the future conversion to the best choice, N/G, friggin amazing is it not! The other thing I learned today is that the portability of CNG is very costly compared to oil. So costly in fact that the oilman presenting this information stated that dispite the argument presented by anti gas activist that our natural gas is all going to be shipped overseas… the oilman doubted that to be true because of the high cost of making CNG to the exporters, and that because of natural gas use and conversion here at home, and the availability of oil to nations without fuel, will be greator and cheaper because of oils already portable mobility, and less demand of foreign fuel oil because of our abundant supply of N/G right here in the USA.

    • Bill says:

      Vic, yes, I think you captured their presentation perfectly. The cost of LNG facilities and carriers is HUGE compared to what it takes to transport oil, so most of the use will be domestic, even with the price differential between the US and overseas.

  2. Janice Gibbs says:

    Really enjoyed the article it was very informative

  3. Imagine! Wanting to burn cleaner, cheaper fuel!
    Great article, very informative. Thank you!

  4. JD Krohn says:

    Don, thanks so much for contributing to the Energy In Depth Marcellus site! I really enjoyed your work and hope that you will consider sending more content in the future.

  5. If America were to push all stationary natural gas consumers to find ways to increase their energy efficiency, not only would global warming be reduced, but also CO2 emissions, and by consuming all this energy efficiently would mean that there is still more of a supply, which hopefully will translate into lower natural gas prices.
    In 2011 the US EIA states that commercial buildings and industry and the power plants consumed approx. 17.5 Trillion cu.ft of natural gas, and 40%(?) of this energy was wasted, blown into the atmosphere as HOT Wasted Energy.
    And America still allows this?
    Increased natural gas energy efficiency = Reduced utility bills = Profit
    Increased natural gas energy efficiency = Reduced global warming
    Increased natural gas energy efficiency = Reduced CO2 emissions
    Increased natural gas energy efficiency = Water conservation

    What natural gas is not wasted today, will be there to be used another day.


  1. […] It doesn’t end there, though, because landfill methane can and is being used as a transportation fuel. Waste Management who operates a landfill in my area, Washington County, Pa., uses it to fuel their garbage collection trucks. I’ve written about how they use methane for truck fuel here. […]

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