by Dick Lemieux

In his April 22 column “As governor, I’ll fight for bold climate action,” Andru Volinsky says he would “make New Hampshire net carbon-neutral [by] building commuter rail lines to Boston.”

The rail plan Volinsky has long promoted calls for running 34 trains daily from Lowell to Nashua, 16 of them continuing to Manchester, using MBTA diesel-powered locomotives.

Building a diesel-powered commuter rail line in hopes of achieving carbon neutrality would be like holding a sneeze-fest in hopes of flattening the COVID-19 curve. Both would produce the opposite of the desired result.

According to the Environmental Defense Fund report titled “Smokestacks on Wheels,” diesel locomotives, like the ones MBTA uses, “present a significant threat to public health and the environment.” They generate exhaust that is made up of particulate matter, smog-forming oxides of nitrogen, sulfur dioxide, greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming, and “a noxious brew of toxic chemicals that together pose a cancer risk greater than that of any other air pollutant.”

Carbon dioxide is the most abundant and has the greatest heating effect of the atmospheric greenhouse gases. Trains produce far more CO2 per mile traveled than any other land-based vehicle and they continue to produce it while idling, which they do, a lot.

Anyone whose “bold climate action” policy includes diesel trains should be disqualified from holding policymaking positions such as, for example, governor of New Hampshire.

(The writer was responsible for reviewing the air quality impacts of hundreds of multimodal transportation projects from passage of the federal Clean Air Act Amendments, in 1990, until 2006.)