Wabtec, university team on decarbonization research

By Jack Burke10 September 2021

Plans to create Freight Rail Innovation Institute

Wabtec will work with Carnegie Mellon University to create technologies that will decarbonize freight rail transport, improve freight safety, and generate greater rail network utilization.

In addition, Wabtec and Genesee & Wyoming Inc. (G&W), the largest owner of short line and regional freight railroads, will pursue zero-emission battery and hydrogen freight strategies, as well as increase rail utilization across North America.

Wabtec, G&W railroad and Carnegie Mellon University plan to launch a research institute.

The announcements were made during a ceremonial gathering on Carnegie Mellon’s campus in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA.

Under the agreement, Wabtec and Carnegie Mellon will seek ways of powering locomotive fleets with alternative energy sources, such as batteries, and eventually, hydrogen fuel cells for a zero-emissions freight rail network pilot. They will also seek advancements to current signaling systems and digital technologies to increase rail network capacity, utilization and safety across the U.S.

To accelerate this effort, Carnegie Mellon University, Genesee & Wyoming and Wabtec aspire to create the Freight Rail Innovation Institute – the first-of-its-kind effort to create zero-emission locomotives, develop technology that increases freight rail utilization and improve safety by 50%, and create 250 000 jobs by 2030.

To maximize utilization across the nation’s mainline rail network, Carnegie Mellon University will play a leading role in developing the engineering technologies that bring together the data, logistics and intelligence needed to optimize rail operations, while reducing emissions.

“The time is right to accelerate the application of emerging technologies to transform the rail industry,” said Farnam Jahanian, president of Carnegie Mellon University. “Advances in digital technologies and artificial intelligence will revolutionize freight rail by driving dramatic improvements in safety and network capacity, while simultaneously increasing efficiency across the nation’s supply chain. As these emerging technologies converge with clean energy breakthroughs, we also see a tremendous opportunity to enable the decarbonization of freight rail. CMU looks forward to bringing our research capabilities and our proven track record of success with industry partners to this important effort.”

G&W’s Buffalo & Pittsburgh Railroad will pilot technologies developed by the Freight Rail Innovation Institute, including a zero-emissions battery and hydrogen-powered train that is planned for revenue operation over 200 mi. of track between Pittsburgh and Buffalo, N.Y. within the next three years.

“While already the most environmentally friendly mode of surface transportation, freight railroads have a critical role to play in our nation’s decarbonization strategy,” said Jack Hellmann, CEO of G&W. “Through this partnership, we plan to transform the next generation of freight rail transportation by adopting advanced technologies that can eliminate emissions and increase rail utilization without requiring significant new rail infrastructure. The end result will be a cleaner environment, more competitive transportation for our nation’s industrial producers, and a freight rail system that remains the most efficient in the world.”

The gathering also featured the inaugural display of Wabtec’s FLXdrive, the world’s first heavy-haul battery-electric locomotive. Earlier this year, the FLXdrive demonstrated its capabilities in revenue operations during a three-month pilot in California, covering more than 13 000 mi. of track. The FLXdrive, operating at 2.4 MW hours, successfully reduced the overall fuel consumption by more than 11% across the entire locomotive consist — saving over 6200 gal. of diesel fuel and reducing approximately 69 tons of CO2 emissions. The second generation of the FLXdrive locomotive, which is in development and will operate at more than 7 MW hours, will reduce fuel consumption by up to 30% across the train. Looking to the future, Wabtec will accelerate the shift to alternative clean energy solutions, through zero-emission hydrogen-powered locomotives.

“This partnership with Carnegie Mellon University and Genesee & Wyoming further strengthens our efforts to decarbonize global rail transportation and will significantly increase freight rail utilization, efficiency, and safety throughout the rail network,” said Rafael Santana, president and CEO of Wabtec. “The transportation sector is at a critical inflection point. With technologies providing increased battery and hydrogen power capacity, we have the potential to eliminate up to 120 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year in North America.

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