Battery-Electric Locomotives

Battery-Electric Locomotives

GE is building a battery-electric locomotive for BSNF Railway Company to explore how to improve energy efficiency and lower fuel costs.

Fuel costs are typically the largest cost for railroad companies.

From GE Transportation

The battery-electric locomotive will be paired with a traditional diesel-electric locomotive, not shown in the illustration.

Electric power from the batteries and/or the diesel-electric generator on the traditional diesel-electric locomotive provide the electricity for the traction motors located in trucks under the platforms of the two locomotives. The traction motors drive the train.

As shown in the illustration, the batteries, in blue, replace the diesel-electric generator.

There are computer-based controls that allow the integration of the power from the diesel-electric locomotive with the power from the batteries on the battery-electric locomotive. The combined pair of locomotives can use the power from the batteries and/or the diesel-electric locomotive to drive the train, and also allow for the diesel-electric locomotive to recharge the batteries on the battery-electric locomotive.

The computer controls can draw power from the diesel-electric locomotive or from the batteries in any combination that best utilizes the batteries to reduce fuel consumption. On a long straightaway, the batteries may provide most of the power, while going up inclines the diesel generator may provide most of the power.

As a pair, they provide the most efficient use of the available power. By itself, the battery-electric locomotive should be able to provide full power for 30 minutes on a single charge.

In some ways, this is similar to the units we built in the Cleveland plant some time ago.

Model of motor trailer built by GE

These units, referred to as “motor trailers”, were built from old diesel-electric locomotives, where the diesel generator was removed and replaced with scrap metal to provide the necessary weight.

New traction motors were installed in the trucks under the platform and were linked, electrically, to the diesel-generator on the traditional diesel-electric locomotive with which the “motor trailer” was connected. These additional traction motors provided extra power to supplement the power provided by the traditional diesel-electric locomotive with which the “motor trailer” was coupled.

The “motor trailer” was an inexpensive way to improve fuel economy or provide extra power for trains operating in hilly terrain.

The new battery-electric locomotives have the potential to improve fuel costs and minimize emissions when operating in yards located in urban areas.

The initial trial units will determine whether they provide the anticipated benefits.

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6 Replies to “Battery-Electric Locomotives”

  1. Looks like a good niche:

    The “motor trailer” was an inexpensive way to improve fuel economy or provide extra power for trains operating in hilly terrain.

    • Time will tell whether the battery-electric locomotive provides the anticipated savings.
      Too many projects of this type are undertaken to cut CO2 emissions regardless of the economics. A carbon tax could make this project viable even if it didn’t improve efficiency. Hopefully, we will never have a carbon tax, but under today’s hysteria over CO2, anything’s possible.

  2. If the economics provide an attractive ROI, then that should suffice I’d hope.

    Besides, it depends upon how a carbon tax directs spending and how much gets squandered by nationalized R&D. To me, a better approach would be a flexible business tax credit for R&D that allows for like-minded tax payers to pool resources.

    BTW: such a tax credit should not be allowed if you don’t pay sufficient taxes.

    • That’s certainly an approach if really warranted. The tax credits for wind and solar show that they also have shortcomings and can be wasteful. Also, like a tax, they are hard to get rid of when all recipients band together to get Congress to keep them.
      As for whether any support is necessary for cutting CO2, there is too much evidence that CO2 is not a threat.

  3. I grew up and traveled the all electric Pennsylvania RR line that provided service along the NE corridor with 4 tracks. What happened that it switched to diesel?
    On a simple energy balance it would seem that the diesel Generator has to provide a fixed amount of energy to go from A to B. While hills may affect the equation somewhat, there is an inefficiency in charging the battery and then converting it back to usable electricity while hauling around the extra baggage of batteries and an extra locomotive.
    Where does the increased efficiency come from to reduce CO emissions?
    Donn you are the expert, help me.

    • Good question, hard to answer with certainty.
      If they can use less fuel they will have fewer CO2 emissions.
      The generator produces excess power which can be used to charge the batteries while providing electricity to the traction motors.
      Exactly how this works out isn’t clear, but GE must have done the engineering to establish the end result will use less fuel. I suspect it is the difference in efficiencies between the diesel generator and the battery when the battery is providing power to the traction motors in place of the diesel generator while the train is running on a flat section of track. It only requires a small amount of power, maybe ten percent, when operating over flat terrain once the train is in motion.
      I hope that answer is accurate, but am not absolutely sure.