Full steam ahead for electric freight trains - Wabtec Corp

Electricity is taking over the transportation sector, with batteries replacing fossil-fuel engines in a growing number of passenger cars, big-rig trucks, school buses, delivery vans, speedboats and ferries. Yet one category in particular is only just starting to get on board with battery power: freight trains.

In the United States, tens of thousands of locomotives rumble down railroads every year, pulling cars that collectively carry around 20 billion tons of cargo. All of these powerful engines run on diesel fuel — and, as a result, generate both planet-warming emissions and harmful air pollution that afflicts communities surrounding rail yards and railways.

This week, Wabtec Corp., a rail technology company, took what it says is a ​“major step” toward electrifying this heavy-duty industry.

At a ceremony in Erie, Pennsylvania, Wabtec unveiled the world’s first battery-powered, heavy-haul locomotive that will be used for mainline service. The hulking vehicle has a battery capacity of 7 megawatt-hours, or roughly the same capacity as 100 Tesla Model Ys, the country’s best-selling electric vehicle.

“We’ve been working on this technology for decades,” Alan Hamilton, Wabtec’s vice president of engineering, told Canary Media ahead of the October 31 event. ​“But only in the past five years or so has energy storage technology gotten to the point that you can start to think about how to practically deploy this.”

If widely adopted, battery-electric trains could slash the U.S. industry’s annual carbon dioxide emissions by more than half, while also avoiding roughly $6.5 billion in yearly health costs linked to air pollution, according to a 2021 study by the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the University of California, Berkeley, and UCLA.


I assume the “full steam ahead” is purposeful irony?

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Those diesel locomotives are diesel electric. The traction motors are electric with power from the diesel generator.

They use dynamic braking when they can. They coast and make electricity from the traction motors which goes to big resistor packs for conversion to heat.

The electric locomotives will use that electricity to charge its batteries for later use. That improves efficiency reduces fuel requirement but dies not replace diesels.

Electric locomotives running from overhead wires are well known–especially in the East. But costly to install in the rest of the US.

Railroads probably can carry tenders with additional battery capacity to run a battery electric locomotive. But that investment might be years away. What they have pilot models working out the bugs.

Wabtecs locomotive business was purchased from GE and used to be the leader. Earlier the leader was GMs EMD division now owned by Caterpillar. They too are probably working on electrics. GM’s bankruptcy probably slowed investment in research.

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