Friday, November 10, 2017

FEC rolls out LNG (updated)

Written by 
  • Print
  • Email
  • See Video Below
FEC rolls out LNG (updated) William C. Vantuono (all photos)

Florida East Coast Railway has become the first North American railroad to adopt LNG (liquefied natural gas) for its entire line-haul locomotive fleet. FECR on Nov. 9, in partnership with the Natural Gas for High Horsepower Summit, officially rolled out its 24-unit fleet, consisting of 12 pairs of back-to-back GE ES44C4s* with a purpose-built Chart Industries fuel tender in between, at Bowden Yard, Jacksonville. FECR, a Class II regional, is also the first railroad to haul LNG as a commodity, under a Federal Railroad Administration waiver.

See Video Below

“We are proud to be the first North American railroad to operate its entire main line fleet on LNG,” says Fran Chinnici, Chief Operating Officer. “We hope that our efforts will help other railroads and industries with this paradigm shift.”

FECR says LNG is “a key part of [our] overall sustainability objective. Natural gas is abundant, clean burning and economical. Compared to diesel fuel, it reduces locomotive emissions and helps improve the environmental quality of the railway’s operations.” FECR has been operating with LNG since late 2015. Raven Transport, a trucking subsidiary of Florida East Coast Industries, also utilizes LNG, having converted 44% of its fleet to run on the fuel. As of October 2017, FECR and Raven completed more 2,300 trips covering more than 850,000 miles while consuming more than 2.7 million gallons of LNG.

LNG, which has been tested as a locomotive fuel for the better part of 25 years and is still under evaluation by several Class I’s, among them BNSF, works for FECR both as a fuel source and a commodity, for two reasons. One, the FECR line-haul locomotive fleet is captive, operating solely on the railroad’s Jacksonville-Miami main line. Two, FECR has several sources of LNG: In addition to purchasing truckloads of the fuel on the open market, Florida East Coast Industries affiliate New Fortress Energy owns and operates a 100,000-gallon-per-day-capacity LNG plant in Hialeah, near Miami.

(New Fortress Energy and another FECI affiliate, TICO Development Partners LLC, have been planning to construct an LNG plant at the south end of Titusville, Brevard County. The $250 million, 200-acre facility, which would be able to produce up to one million gallons of LNG per day, received a conditional-use permit from the city in January 2015. However, site plans have not yet been submitted. One reason for the delay appears to be a federal regulation that requires an LNG storage tank be at least one mile from the end of an airport runway. New Fortress /TICO has submitted a request to the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) for a variance from the regulation, because the site is about a half-mile from the southern edge of a Space Coast Regional Airport runway. Residents from surrounding communities have mounted a legal challenge.)

Reducing natural gas to its liquid form permits cost-effective transport over long distances; experts say LNG is one of the fastest-growing segments in the energy industry, with a 10% to 15% percent projected annual growth rate over the next decade.

FEC LNG CompositeThe EPA Tier 3-compliant locomotives look no different than GE ES44C4s, but their GEVO prime-movers have been retrofitted by GE with its NextFuel™low-pressure technology. NextFuel™ Natural Gas Retrofit Kits “enable existing Evolution Series locomotives to operate with dual fuel capabilities,” GE says. “This gives railroads flexibility to run on both diesel fuel and LNG with up to 80% gas substitution as well as run 100% diesel. Our NextFuel™ kits allow railroads to use natural gas as a fuel source, reducing emissions and potentially reducing fuel costs by 50% while not compromising performance.”

The gas substitution method retains diesel for compression ignition purposes. A 100% LNG engine would require a spark ignition, like a gasoline engine.

The purpose-built, 149,600-pound (fully loaded) fuel tender is what sets these units apart from conventional locomotives. Specially designed and built by Chart Industries, they consist of a cryogenic tank permanently mounted in a railcar that looks a lot like an intermodal well car.

But a well car it isn’t. It’s much stronger, capable of deflecting a side impact from a tractor-trailer without damage. the car also sports a center sill much larger and heavier than a well car. Underneath, the carbody has no openings where, in a derailment, an errant rail that becomes a projectile comes up through the floor and punctures the tank. The design was extensively computer-modeled to simulate worse-case side impact and derailment scenarios.

The cryogenic tank, secured to the railcar and protected by a massive steel frame with collision posts, is like a giant thermos bottle. It’s really two tanks in one: An inner stainless-steel tank within an outer carbon-steel tank, separated by a layer of thermal insulation. Complex gasification equipment that takes the LNG and transforms it into a gas for the locomotives’ fuel injection system forms a web of valves and pipes. It’s a complicated setup—a real “plumber’s nightmare”—but it works well, and safely. Safety features also include valves that snap shut automatically if the LNG plumbing is damaged, preventing leakage.

LNG content is determined by weight, not by volume, hence the scales that are built into each fueling station. It takes 90 minutes to fill an empty tender. The tender car fuels its twin locomotives for up to 900 miles of heavy-haul service operating at a maximum speed of 60 mph. That’s good for one 700-mile round trip between Jacksonville and Miami, including idling time and potential delays, with fuel and time to spare.

FECR, under FRA waiver, is also hauling LNG in ISO containers. The bottom two photos show one of these units loaded in a conventional intermodal flat car. The railroad is currently moving LNG containers between the liquefaction plant in Hialeah and Port Miami and Port Everglades. As well, FECR is beginning to explore additional opportunities around the transport of LNG as a commodity.


The safety of transporting LNG by rail has, as expected, been questioned. Is LNG flammable? According to the California Energy Commission (CEC), “It depends. When cold LNG comes in contact with warmer air, it becomes a visible vapor cloud. As it continues to get warmer, the vapor cloud becomes lighter than air and rises. When LNG vapor mixes with air it is only flammable if within 5%-15% natural gas in air. Less than this is not enough to burn. More than this, there is too much gas in the air and not enough oxygen for it to burn.”

Likewise, is LNG explosive? Again, according to the CEC: “As a liquid, LNG is not explosive. LNG vapor will only explode if in an enclosed space. LNG vapor is only explosive if within the flammable range of 5%-15% when mixed with air.”

In the unlikely event (since the fuel tender is designed to withstand a large impact) event of LNG escaping from a cryogenic tank during a derailment or collision, Florida’s first-responders along the state's eastern coast are being trained in proper response techiques.

A retired New York City Fire Department officer has been training firefighters and first-responders all along FECR territory “to deal with any emergency with LNG on the rails and on the highways," says Lt. Tom Guldner, FDNY (ret.).

Guldner, President of Marine Firefighting Inc., says his “LNG for the First Responder” program is comprised of a two or three-day program involving “Awareness Level,” “Operations Level,” and “Command Level” training. “This training has been conducted in Florida along the FECR rail line for the Jacksonville Fire Department, the Martin County Fire Department, and a group of first responders from Broward and Dade Counties. With LNG in use throughout the U.S. on our highways and, in the future, on other major rail lines, this training will be of use in other areas as well.”
Among several certifications Guldner is certified by BNSF Railway in “LNG Awareness and Emergency Response” and “Railroad Emergency Response HazMat Awareness.” He is not new to the LNG industry. For the past 18 years, his company has been training mariners and first responders to deal with LNG on ships and work boats in the U.S., Mexico and Australia.


LNG as a fuel has been in play for at least 50 years. In 1970, there was a Wall Street research report prepared on Cabot Corp., a Boston outfitthat had formed a venture called Distrigas to import LNG into Boston Harbor. “That operation is still running to this day with Trinidad gas; the report has been long forgotten,” railroad and maritime shipping  consultant and former analyst Jim Hanscom, who wrote it, tells Railway Age. “But Cabot backed out of further extensions into the terminal business and moved on.”

Hanscom recalls going to an international LNG conference in Paris, “where the faithful gathered en-mass to hear the word. The people from Shell were the only ones with any real-world experience. Shell had built a small marine vessel based on a containment system that involved screwing individual pieces of balsa wood into the hull, but this was acknowledged as unworkable in a scale-up.

“It has taken LNG a long time to hatch. First, the developers and producers went off the rails in pricing, failing to consider that LNG had other properties than did oil. The early birds went bust. Aside from making it too expensive, lead times on projects have been gruesome. And then there is the PR. LNG, somehow, managed to become the modern-day equivalent of Darth Vader with a hydrogen bomb threatening small children.

“Actually, LNG is far more benign than half the stuff being hauled on the highways and rails. Its threat involves a complicated set of coincidences—a weather inversion combined with a containment puncture, etc.—so one cannot say a problem could never occur. The big move could be just ahead, as the shipping industry adjusts to new environmental rules that work against the economics of fuel oil. 2020 is standing on the corner. Goodbye Bunker C. Goodbye diesel, expensive and polluting. LNG ship ordering comes daily.

“Right now, the dual-fuel engine is in vogue. And, the thermal trade continues to build, as new projects come on stream. The oversupply glut promises to accelerate the spread of LNG’s use, pushing the applications down to retail. I find the FECR move a pleasant surprise. FECR is an innovator and risk-taker.”

For additional insight, downloadable from the link below is Safety Analysis of Alternative Locomotive Fuels, a study carried out by Los Alamos National Laboratory for the Burlington Northern Railroad, and published in September 1990. Los Alamos analyzed the safety of diesel fuel, LNG, CNG, propane and methanol, when hauled in tender cars (cryogenic tank cars for LNG) behind locomotives.

The author gratefully acknowledges the contribution and assistance of former GE engineer Graciela Trillanes, who spearheaded this project, working closely with FECR and Chart Industries. Trillanes has since moved on to CNGmotive Inc., a company headed by former EMD engineer David L. Scott, as Sales and Marketing Director. The author also acknowledges the input of Chart Industries Product Manager, Railroad Products Group Scott Nason; and Transportation Technology and Economics Principal Steve Ditmeyer.

*The ES44C4 (Evolution Series, 4400 HP, C-C wheel arrangement, 4 traction motors) was introduced in 2009. While similar to the ES44AC, the ES44C4 has two traction motors per truck, instead of the conventional three such as on the ES44AC. The center axle of each truck is unpowered, giving an A1A-A1A wheel arrangement. BNSF was the launch customer for this model, ordering an initial 25 units  6600-6624. As of 2015, BNSF rostered more than 900 ES44C4s. In January 2014, FECR ordered its 24 ES44C4s, numbered 800-823, for heavy-haul service and intermodal traffic. All were delivered by year-end 2014, in order to beat the EPA’s deadline on exhaust-emissions standards for new-built Tier 3 locomotives. A unique feature of the ES44C4 is its variable traction control system. One of the differences between an ES44AC and an ES44C4 is the air cylinders and linkages on the truck sideframes of the ES44C4; these are part of the traction control system. Every time a variation in grade, traction, or wheelslip occurs, the computer will adjust the pressure in these cylinders to maintain sufficient adhesion, by varying the weight on the drive axles.

Download attachments:

Get the latest rail news

Rail news and analysis from Railway Age, IRJ and RT&S by email