Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Locomotives with sustaining power

Written by  Douglas John Bowen, Managing Editor

Railroads have always been fuel efficient. Locomotive manufacturers find themselves well-positioned to improve that efficiency still more, matching or exceeding expectations of governments worldwide.

Use less fuel. Emit fewer pollutants. Deliver more power. One, two, three: Easy laundry list for a locomotive, right?

Unfazed by such a complex demand, North American locomotive manufacturers have risen to the challenge, making near-leaps in technology even as the environmental hurdles become ever higher.

Indeed, U.S. EPA Tier 3 and Tier 4 standards in some ways are “more challenging” than European counterparts, though similar in many respects, according to GE Ecomagination Leader for Transportation Peter Lawson—perhaps giving U.S. manufacturers a slight edge in global competitive development. EPA seeks compliance “over the useful life of the product and compliance is required over a much wider environmental window of temperature and altitude,” Lawson notes.

Whether the railroad client is in Shanghai or Chicago, however, the goal for sustainable locomotive designs is simple: Identify the customer’s needs, and meet them.

GE Transportation

Unlike General Motors, General Electric never gave up on locomotives. In the post-Staggers era, GE Transportation has become a dominant player not just in North America but worldwide. GE’s annual reports to shareholders, along with TV commercials, take pains to push cutting-edge locomotive work into public (and Wall Street) view.

Erie, Pa.-based GE Transportation currently sports three versions of its Evolution Series locomotive design, with BNSF ordering 25 units of the newest model, the ES44C4, last November. The ES44C4 (Evolution Series, 4400 hp, AC traction, four traction motors) is designed with the center axle of each truck being unpowered, giving an A1A-A1A wheel arrangement and promoting fuel efficiency.

Asked if BNSF is perhaps a logical first customer, GE Ecomagination Leader for Transportation Peter Lawson allows, “BNSF is a railroad that is not afraid to take a risk, to take a chance with a new technology, kind of like General Electric itself—it’s in that same mold.” GE Transportation’s risk came during the Great Recession, when, much like the Class I railroads, it decided to invest in research and development despite economic headwinds. “We continued to invest significantly in our technology, in our product, and continued to bring new products to the rail industry that help lower the operating cost of a railroad,” Lawson recalls. “Some of it is on the locomotive side, some of it on the signaling solution side.”

R.J. Corman Railpower

For Erie, Pa.-based R.J. Corman Railpower Locomotives, a subsidiary of the namesake Railroad Group, the customer is king, even if the customer is a small industry player. The company stresses its work beginning in 2000 to develop “a family of clean and efficient yard switchers. Since that time, our products have evolved into GenSet locomotives that serve both yard and switching functions” improving adhesion while saving fuel.

“Sustainability isn’t just about putting an eco-friendly design into the marketplace,” a spokesman says. “It’s putting the design out there and taking feedback from end users, which, at R.J. Corman, uniquely includes our own short lines. We also learn from reliability analysis, ensuring the design continually improves to maximize reliability and asset utilization. Inherent to our design, GenSets naturally provide improved reliability through engine redundancy.”

Keeping up with the Environmental Protection Agency isn’t always easy. “Originally, the EPA based its tighter 2008 switcher standards on what it saw GenSets accomplishing,” the spokesman says. “ If not for the GenSets, switcher standards may have been set higher than linehaul, as they always have been historically. Had railroads not adopted GenSets as a common way of meeting these more stringent standards, the market may have looked different today.

“With that in mind, Railpower’s next big fork in the road will be what solutions the railroads are willing to accept for meeting 2015 Tier 4 requirements.” Railpower has not yet committed to a “standard” Tier 4 design “because we are interested in which solutions the railroads will embrace as their baseline,” the spokesman says.

Brookville Equipment Corp.

Don’t forget all the small new customers needing locomotives, including nascent passenger rail operators, observes Michael Lunsford White, marketing manager for Brookville Equipment Corp., Brookville, Pa.

“Brookville is the supplier able to supply two locomotives, or five locomotives, not necessarily 25 locomotives or more,” White asserts. That’s a marketing plus when courting new passenger rail startup efforts across North America that need sustainable technology as much—or even more—than larger established operators.

Metro-North Railroad isn’t small, but it is indicative of a market for sustainable locomotive design that traditionally might have been overlooked. Brookville Equipment’s dual-purpose locomotives include switcher/passenger units Metro-North can use to move construction and demolition debris, garbage trains out of Grand Central Terminal, or passengers to and from the famed terminal, White notes.

New York MTA’s much-delayed East Side Access construction project, now set for completion in 2019, has its own needs for sustainable locomotives. Brookville Equipment has provided a multi-engine, 700 hp, two-engine switcher locomotive, moving freight into the ESA tunnels from the Long Island Rail Road in Queens and delivering cement tunnel liners to the Manhattan tunnel terminus under Grand Central.

In south Florida, Brookville Equipment “is providing 3,600 hp, 20 cylinder MTU engines, Tier 3 now and Tier 4-ready compliance, to South Florida Regional Transportation Authority (SFRTA), operator of TriRail regional rail service,” White says.

Cummins, Inc.

Eyeing the needs of railroads in the new railway age, Cummins, Inc. last November introduced its QSK95 diesel engine, a 16-cylinder 4,000 hp engine, which the company called “the world’s most powerful high-speed diesel,” promising power comparable to the output of 20-cylinder engines. The QSK95 is designed to meet EPA Tier 4 requirements, to take effect in 2015.

“The stronger engine design of the QSK95 means more reliability in-service and less to rebuild at engine overhaul, considerably reducing total life cycle costs,” the company says. “The QSK95 will provide an exceptionally long life-to-overhaul, capable of achieving 1.7 million galas and above of fuel consumed before overhaul, with the significant advantage of no mid-life intervention required.”

EMD/Progress Rail Services

Tapping the resources of parent Caterpillar Inc. its and subsidiary Progress Rail Services, La Grange, Ill.-based Electro-Motive Diesel offers its EPA Tier 3 SD70ACe locomotive for railroads in North America and across the world. The locomotive is equipped with a modified 710G engine to meet the new Tier 3 regulations. It is also fitted with PTC onboard equipment and cab displays. EMD and Progress Rail say most orders are now being delivered PTC-ready.

At Railway Interchange 2011 in Minneapolis last fall, Progress Rail also showcased one of five PR30C demonstrators designed to meet EPA Tier 4 standards. A rebuilt SD40-2, PRCX 3004 was fitted with a Caterpillar 3516 engine and selective catalytic reduction exhaust cleaning equipment.

EMD also offers a 710ECO™ Repower locomotive retrofit package, designed to offer “better than EPA Tier 2 performance” while being “eligible for clean air funding—with up to 25% fuel reduction and 50% lube oil savings. The EM2000 microprocessor-based control system operates engine diagnostics, maximizes all-weather tractive effort, and includes an automatic engine start stop (AESS) system. The software can be tuned for future emissions compliance.”

National Railway Equipment Co.

National Railway Equipment Co.’s latest offering in its N-ViroMotive sustainable locomotive series is its N-Viro 2GS36C-DE. The two-genset, 3,600 hp, six-axle locomotive is designed for multipurpose use; it can be utilized as an 1,800-hp switcher, an 1,800- or 3,600-hp hump yard locomotive, a road switcher, or a linehaul locomotive. “This equates to the locomotive being suitable for nearly all work to be found on a typical railroad system, and negates the need to assign it to a dedicated service,” the company points out.

Wabtec

Wabtec manufactures new mid-horsepower passenger locomotives which it says are “suitable for commuter or long-distance service. Available with a variety of power-generation packages, these units can be equipped with the latest microprocessor-based control systems for increased adhesion and tractive effort, reduced fuel consumption and maintenance, and improved equipment monitoring and event-recording features.” the company says. Wabtec also has crafted a microprocessor-controlled switching locomotive fueled by liquefied natural gas. Wabtec’s latest sale came early last month, as the company ‘s MotivePower subsidiary secured an order to build 10 locomotives for CFCLA Rail JV Pty Ltd., a joint venture of CFCL Australia Pty. Ltd. and Marubeni Corp. of Tokyo, Japan. The locomotives, to be delivered in 2013, will be MotivePower’s standard gauge MP33C model, and include components from a number of other Wabtec divisions.