BNSF, Wabtec commence battery-electric locomotive pilot test

By Jack Burke05 January 2021

Locomotive running in revenue service

BNSF Railway and Wabtec said they are testing battery-electric locomotives in revenue service between Barstow and Stockton, California, USA.

As BNSF seeks ways to further reduce its environmental impact, the advancement of battery technology offers some possible solutions, the company said.

“We’ve got everything in place and we’re ready to see how this next-generation locomotive performs in revenue service,” said John Lovenburg, BNSF vice president, Environmental. “BNSF is focused on continuing to reduce our environmental impact, and we’re committed to doing our part to test and assess the commercial viability of emerging technologies that reduce emissions.”

The battery-powered locomotive will be situated in a consist between two Tier 4 locomotives, creating a battery-electric hybrid consist. When running on the mainline, both the battery-electric and diesel locomotives will power the train.

The battery-electric locomotive is expected to reduce the environmental impact from emissions along the route in an efficient manner, while improving the fuel economy for the entire consist by at least 10%. The pilot test will run until the end of March. If the initial pilot proves successful, BNSF will look to expand testing to other locations and operating conditions on its system.

This initiative builds on BNSF’s existing investments in sustainable technologies including idle control, electric wide-span cranes, battery-electric hostlers, automated gates at its intermodal facilities, and Tier 4 locomotives. BNSF partnered with Wabtec on the development of the battery-electric locomotive, which features an overall energy-management system, including onboard energy storage that, when coupled with advanced system-optimization controls, will improve consist and train performance.

“The FLXdrive is the world’s first 100%, heavy-haul battery-electric locomotive that optimizes the total energy utilization of the entire locomotive consist,” said Alan Hamilton, Wabtec vice president, Engineering. “This technology works in a manner very similar to how electric vehicles use regenerative braking. It’s a significant step forward for the rail industry and will change the course for even cleaner, more energy-efficient transport.”

The battery-electric locomotive pilot program is part of a US$22.6 million grant awarded to BNSF and the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District from the Zero- and Near Zero-Emission Freight Facilities (ZANZEFF) project by the California Air Resource Board to pilot several emissions-reducing technologies in and around railyards. The ZANZEFF project is part of California Climate Investments, a statewide initiative that puts billions of Cap-and-Trade dollars to work reducing greenhouse gas emissions, strengthening the economy and improving public health and the environment — particularly in disadvantaged communities.

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