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Emissions reduction and digitalization of rail transport will attract 50% of US road cargo – Wabtec

8 December 2021
Reading time ~ 4 min
BNSF container train
BNSF container train. Source: Clay Gilliland, Flickr
Belov Sergey, Editor-in-Chief, ROLLINGSTOCK Agency
Reading time ~ 4 min
Litvintsova Olga, Editor of International Projects, ROLLINGSTOCK Agency

USA: The manufacturer expects that half of the cargo shifted from road to rail will reduce 18 mln truck loads, cut fuel consumption in national economy by about 18 mln tonnes, as well as avoiding 60 mln tonnes of CO2 emissions.

According to the publication in the Trains, these estimates were presented by Wabtec Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing Gina Trombley at the RailTrends 2021 conference. In terms of digitalization, Wabtec calls automation and increased shipments visibility throughout the supply chain as drivers of such a shift to rail. Emissions reduction will be achieved by the Tier 4 and higher diesel locomotives implementation, as well as by the battery traction.

Wabtec assumes its significant involvement in this process, as the manufacturer estimates that 75% of operated locomotives in North America were produced by the company and GE Transportation, which was acquired by Wabtec in 2019. So, according to Trombley, the modernization of diesel locomotives only due to a more environmentally friendly engines can reduce fuel consumption by 10-15%. The current Tier 4 diesel reduces fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 8%. Wabtec’s estimates also suggest that the shift of shunting operations to battery traction will improve air quality and reduce noise by 70%, so it will improve life quality in the surrounding residential areas.

FLXdrive battery locomotive by Wabtec. Source: Wabtec

In 2020, Wabtec presented an FLXdrive battery-powered locomotive: its declared capacity is 3,200 kW, and 100% of traction is provided by batteries. The vehicle has been tested this year on the BNSF network in California in trains that also have included a pair of Tier 4 diesel locomotives. Replacing one diesel locomotive with a battery-powered FLXdrive has resulted in 11% fuel savings, the company said. Lately, Wabtec has already received orders for this locomotive: in Canada it was ordered by Canadian National Railway (CN), the car was also bought by Roy Hill, an Australian iron ore mining company.

According to Trains, Wabtec is developing a 7,000 kW version of the FLXdrive. As the manufacturer declares, it will take 4-5 hours to fully charge its batteries. By 2025, Wabtec plans to add the possibility of classic locomotive traction from a catenary. Trombley hasn’t disclosed the difference in price between the FLXdrive and the Tier 4 diesel locomotive, but indicated that the battery-powered rolling stock would have a good economy when used with diesel locomotives and on hilly routes where braking energy is captured at its maximum.

The intensification of the alternative and electric traction development in the USA is associated with a change in the course of the country’s leadership to reduce CO2 emissions and, as a result, a great attention of the state to the railway transport. In November, US President Joe Biden signed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that assumes the largest government investment in public and rail transport in the US history.

It is worth noting that a plan to reduce the impact on the climate has been recently published by one of the country’s largest freight operators, Union Pacific (UP), with a fleet of more than 7.5 thousand locomotives, while the average age of mainline vehicles is 21.2 years, and shunting ones – under 40 years. By 2030, UP plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from locomotives operation by 26% and to achieve this goal by increasing the locomotive fleet efficiency, including its upgrading to higher emission standards and implementation of more environmentally friendly fuels, including biodiesel.