CNG is a real possibility for the Durango Train. However, there are some serious challenges that would need to be dealt with.
The big advantages of CNG:
- It’s a very clean hydrocarbon – CO2 and H2O are the only by-products. No smoke, no toxins, no heavy metals, and most importantly no embers coming from the smoke stack to cause another fire like the 416 fire, and no nightly smog to pollute our south side neighborhoods where some of our most vulnerable citizens live.
- CNG is a very cheap hydrocarbon – CNG is one of the few fuels that is as cheap or cheaper than coal. There’s a very good reason so much electricity generation has switched from coal to natural gas.
- CNG is a local hydrocarbon – The San Juan Basin is the largest source of coal-bad methane production in the US. We have ample supplies locally to power the entire DSNGRR fleet back and forth to Silverton.
- CNG is a very energy-dense hydrocarbon – At 22,000 BTUs per pound, CNG has almost twice as much energy per pound as coal.
- CNG is a very well understood hydrocarbon – our culture has been using natural gas for over a century to heat our water, light our homes and generate our electricity. The tanks, compressors, pumps, valves, hoses and other equipment needed to store and use CNG is very well understood by millions of engineers around the country, including hundreds of local engineers.
- CNG is a supported hydrocarbon – there’s a company called Sustainable Rails that has the engineering expertise, experience and interest to help DSNGRR. The great folks at Sustainable Rails have had several conversations with various members of our community about our Train, and about the current crises the Train faces to move away from coal and towards a cleaner future. Additionally, local engineers and mechanics have committed to helping the Train in its transition.
However, CNG is not without its challenges:
- While CNG itself is an incredibly cheap source of fuel, the infrastructure to make that fuel available for the Train is not. The carbon-fiber tanks alone cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Local investors have indicated a willingness to invest in this infrastructure with the train, and State and Federal grants might be available to help with the R&D and infrastructure. However, the up front costs will be the biggest obstacle to adopting CNG as the alternative fuel for the DSNGRR.
- The engineering and mechanical modifications to a steam engine to burn CNG are ‘non-trivial’. While the engineering is understood, and the parts are readily available, the implementation would be ‘custom’ in every sense of the word. Each engine will be unique, time consuming and expensive.