Florida commuter line fills up on biodiesel

By Kris Bevill | October 14, 2008
Web exclusive posted Nov. 5, 2008 at 9:47 a.m. CST

The biodiesel industry can add commuter trains to its list of users after the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority announced that on Oct. 29th it began fueling eight of its Tri-Rail train sets with no less than 80 percent biodiesel.

The commuter trains operate daily on 72 miles of track between Miami International Airport and West Palm Beach, Fla. Bonnie Arnold, marketing director for the transport authority, said south Florida's warm climate makes it possible for the trains to use high blends of biodiesel year-round. The trains are currently using a B99 blend of fuel. However, according to Arnold, that high percentage is not always readily available and the trains may occasionally run on blends as low as B80. Soy and palm oil-derived biodiesel will be used based on its availability. Fuel is being obtained for the locomotives via the Port of Tampa, Fla., but at press time the identity of the producer which holds the supply contract was not available.

The Federal Transit Administration funded the locomotives that are now part of Tri-Rail's biodiesel fleet. Prior to its decision to supply the equipment, the administration conducted tests at the Southwest Research Center in San Antonio, comparing usage characteristics of biodiesel and conventional diesel in the engines. It was determined that the locomotives will use seven percent more fuel when operating on biodiesel. However, cost comparisons and environmental impacts make the difference a wash, according to Arnold.

"The switch to biodiesel fuel has been long in coming," said Josephus Eggelletion Jr., Tri-Rail's governing board commissioner. "It follows in the path of Gov. Crist's mission to 'green' the state of Florida and we are pleased that the economies and efficiencies have come together to allow us to make this change for the betterment of the environment."
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