EU Emission limits bite for new freight locomotives

The rail freight sector has grown exponentially over the past twenty years resulting in an unprecedented demand for new motive power. In recent months the major UK rail freight companies have had their cheque books out in a major spending spree. Rail Magazine has summarized the latest purchases of diesel locomotives:-

  • 21 x EMD Class 66s for GBRf.
  •  15 x Vossloh Class 68s for DRS.
  • 10 x General Electric  Class 70s for Colas Rail

Source: Rail 741 (5-18 February 2014)

However, the reason for this latest rush is due in part to the need to acquire new locomotives before more stringent EU emission limits bite at the end of the year. There is likely to be a shortage of locomotives which are compliant with these limits. In fact, these more stringent standards are already in force. At the end of the year, however, a period of grace under which a  number of locomotives could be marketed which only complied with an earlier set of standards, will expire.

Non-road mobile machinery

The emissions in question are set out in Directive 96/68/EC (OJ L 59, 27.2.98) on non-road mobile machinery (NRMM Directive). For the consolidated text of the Directive see:-

The Directive covers all moveable plant and machinery which does not operate on roads and uses spark ignition (SI) or compression ignition (CI) engines. This encompasses everything from construction machinery to canal boats. However, the Directive was not expanded to cover locomotives and railcars until it was amended by Directive 2004/26/EC (OJ L 146, 30.4.2004). In the UK the requirements are transposed into domestic law by way of the Non-Road Mobile Machinery (Emission of Gaseous and Particulate Pollutants)  Regulations 1999 (Statutory Instrument No. 1999/1053) (as amended) (NRMM regs):-


The Directive introduces emission limits in increasingly stringent phases. Upon being brought within the scope of the Directive, locomotives were made subject to Stage IIIA emission limits. Stage IIIB emission limits came into force on 1 January 2012 in place of Stage IIIA. The rail industry expressed concern that the Stage IIIB requirements were too much of a step up from Stage IIIA and presented technical difficulties which could not be solved in the time frame. As the Association of the European Rail Industry (UNIFE) put it:-

At present, no proven solutions are available for stage IIIB. When answering call for tenders, engine manufacturers refuse to make any commitment on reliability or fuel consumption. When they do take the risk of quoting a price it can be twice as much as for a IIIA compliant diesel power package (i.e. about 15 to 20% of the whole locomotive cost). This increase is in itself an indication of the lack of maturity of the technology and may also deter possible locomotive orders.

UNIFE, ‘NRMM Directive – Introduction of Flexibility for Rail Applications’ (July 2009)

The rail industry and those governments whose rail sectors are heavily reliant on diesel traction, such as the UK, lobbied hard for the inclusion of flexibility requirements so as to extend the period in which Stage IIIA compliant locomotives could continue to be marketed. The EU Commission eventually agreed and a flexibility scheme was inserted into the NRMM Directive under Annex XIII (transposed into the UK in schedule 9, paras 9-13 of the NRMM regs SI 1999/1053). This enables a limited number of new locomotives to be placed on the market for a period of 3 years after the Stage IIIB requirements came into force; this period expires on 31 December 2014 and hence the rush to place orders.

The flexibility scheme only permits each manufacturer (known in the Directive as Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs)) to place 16 new locomotives on the market in the time frame. The UK managed to negotiate an additional 10 locomotives provided that they are for exclusive use on the UK rail system. Given that channel tunnel freight trains are operated by electric locomotives this presumably means that the operators are prohibited from lending or selling them to continental operators. This concession fell considerably short of what the UK freight sector originally desired. As the report of the European Parliamentary Scrutiny Committee shows, the freight sector argued that each manufacturer would need an allowance of 40 locomotives under the flexibility scheme in order to meet demand: see Parliamentary European Scrutiny Committee, 26th Report (27 April 2011), doc DFT31804 ‘Emissions from non-road mobile machinery’:-

What locomotives are affected?

Class 66 - Dan Adkins – Dan Adkins

The EMD Class 66 locomotives are not compliant with Stage IIIB and the order for 21 placed by GBRf look set to be the last. The order for 21 placed by GBRf uses up most of the allocation under the flexibility requirements. Whilst the sales fact sheet refers to compliance with Stage IIIA it does not indicate any plans for future compliance with Stage IIIB:-

Class 70

The General Electric Class 70 ‘Power Haul’ locomotives ordered by Colas are compliant with Stage IIIA but not currently Stage IIIB; however, General Electric’s sales brochure refers to the fact that Stage IIIB compliance will be an option on future models:-

Class 68

The Vossloh Class 68 ‘Eurolight’ locomotives ordered by Direct Rail Services (DRS) are the newest of the recent crop of freight locomotives and are the closest to full compliance with Stage IIIB emission limits. The engines (supplied by Caterpillar) are currently compliant with Stage IIIA but can be relatively easily adapted to meet Stage IIIB.

Comment – environmental standards and ‘technology forcing’ measure

The saga of the implementation of new emission standards for locomotives is a classic example of the difficulties of harmonizing technical standards in an environmental context. The first point to note is that the NRMM Directive is a market harmonization Directive as opposed to an environmental measure. However, Article 114 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) on market harmonization measures incorporates environmental objectives. Thus technical standards must ‘take as a base a high level of protection, taking account in particular of any new development based on scientific facts.’ The hope is that harmonization measures will raise environmental standards rather than adopt the lowest common denominator.

This is a difficult objective to achieve and means that a degree of ‘technology forcing’ is required. When faced with demands for cleaner technology manufacturers tend to argue that they are already doing the best that they can and that improvements will be infeasible or excessively costly. The reaction of the locomotive manufacturers to Stage IIIB is a classic example of this. If the regulator relies too heavily upon the guidance delivered by industry itself there is a risk that existing standards will crystallize as the ‘state of the art.’ The Commission responded to these concerns by engaging the industry in a research programme as part of a technology forcing scheme. This is known as the CleanER-D programme and is partly funded by the EU Commission under the 7th environmental action programme:

This produced viable solutions to achieving the Stage IIIB standards and is most clearly demonstrated by many feature of the class 68 Vossloh Eurolight locomotive.

Nevertheless, there is still concern that the EU set an overly ambitious time frame for meeting the new standards and that there will be a shortage of motive power across the EU once the 3 year flexibility period comes to an end. In the UK there is a burgeoning industry in reconditioning old British Rail era diesels. Existing locomotives have ‘grandfathered’ rights under Article 10 of the NRMM Directive which means that they can be fitted with brand new engines which only comply with stage IIIA.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *