Riding along the Grand Canyon Railway, through the prairies and cowboy towns, peering over the rim of the Grand Canyon itself, that inspiring mile-deep ravine carved out over millions of years by the Colorado River: The experience is one of the most iconic ways for a family to get a taste of the Southwest.
The train, a throwback itself, runs the 65-mile journey from Williams, AZ to the South Rim of the canyon, providing views of the unique natural environment and living history, earning it the 2017 Arizona Governor’s Award for Outstanding Historical and Cultural Preservation.
And this summer, the smoke billowing out of its 1923-built steam engine of Locomotive No. 4960, might smell like French fries.
This year, the train will be carbon neutral, running on recycled waste vegetable oil—the first time that this green-energy biofuel technology has been applied to a steam engine. And as we slowly get back to safe family travel, you can book the fam seats on this green-running relic.
Some 140 years ago, Rudolf Diesel developed the diesel engine to be run on any type of oil. He specifically used peanut oil in 1900 when he introduced his engine at the World’s Fair.
Eventual industrialization and automobile development led to the use of carbon-emitting fossil fuels as the engine gained popularity. Diesel is a petroleum product with a low combustion rate used for delivery trucks, large boats, busses, and more, including trains. Trains on the East Coast generally ran on coal, but out West, where coal wasn’t as available they ran on petroleum. In fact, the GRR actually stopped running the steam locomotive over a decade ago because of the environmental impact in an ecosystem valued for its natural wonder. The retrofit process development and implementation took two years.
“It’s great to know that we are taking a 100-year-old machine that is terribly inefficient and making it the most environmentally friendly machine in our operating fleet,” says Eric Hadder, Chief Mechanical Officer at the Grand Canyon Railway. “Our use of renewable and environmentally friendly resources doesn’t stop with the fuel, but also includes lubricants as well. Being able to share it with so many people makes it even better.”
By using recycled vegetable oil from restaurants, Locomotive 4960 is actually carbon-neutral and third-party (International Standards Organization 14001) certified for Environmental Management. The used grease is collected and filtered by Baker Commodities, a company that brokers used vegetable oil and other recyclables from restaurants, farms, industrial centers, schools, and other institutions.
The railway will run daily trips through Grand Canyon National Park that depart at 9:30 a.m. and return at 5:45 p.m. with a four-hour stop at the South Rim. This year a handful of trips will be aboard the grease-powered 4960: April 3 and 24 (a special Earth Day ride), May 1, June 5, July 3, August 7, Sept. 4 and 18 . The train trips can also be packaged with stays at the Grand Canyon Railway & Hotel, which is in walking distance from downtown Williams, an activity-loaded town known as the gateway to this national park. The closest airports are in Phoenix and Las Vegas, a three- and 3.5-hour drive respectively. Kids will be stoked, even if they’re craving fried food for the rest of the trip.