Westport delivers first LNG tender to EMD

Written by Kevin Smith, Editor-in-Chief, International Railway Journal
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Vancouver, British Columbia-based Westport Innovations, has delivered the first of four liquefied natural gas (LNG) tenders ordered by Canadian National (CN) to Electro-Motive Diesel (EMD, which is developing a pilot low-pressure LNG diesel dual-fuel locomotive for the Class I railroad).

For the project EMD is retrofitting SD70ACe and SD70M-2 4,000-hp locomotives, which meet US EPA Tier III emission standards, and will utilize parent company Caterpillar’s Dynamic Gas Blending technology. A 45,500 liter ISO LNG tank, which is 40 feet long and is fitted to a 48-foot intermodal well car, will hold the LNG, which will be vaporized in the tender, avoiding the need for the cryogenic liquid to be carried across a coupler.

The ISO LNG tender can fuel either a single or dual locomotive formation and offer comparable power ratings and range to diesel-powered locomotives. Brian Dracup, Wesport’s senior director of rail, says this particular LNG project will have a 60%-to-80% LNG use rate, and has the advantage of converting to 100% diesel if required.

Dracup says that adopting LNG could offer Class I’s a 30%-to-50%, fuel savings per locomotive, or roughly $250,000 to $450,00 per year, based on average fuel consumption of 1.14 million gallons per year.

LaGrange, Ill.-based EMD is expected to carry out stationary testing of the LNG-powered locomotive during the next few months ahead of CN’s pilot line testing program, which is due to begin this summer. Westport Innovations will deliver the three remaining LNG tenders by the end of the second quarter.

The low-pressure project is a companion project to the application of Westport’s high-pressure direct injection (HPDI) technology to an SD70M-2 locomotive, which is supported by Sustainable Development Technology Canada, a Canadian government-backed initiative that aims to commercialize emerging clean technologies. This scheme is again being developed in partnership with EMD and CN along with Gaz Métro Transport Metro Solutions (GMTS) and aims to provide a 95%:5% LNG:diesel fuel ratio.

Dracup likens the adoption of LNG to the conversion from steam to diesel locomotives in the 1960s, a view shared by leaders in the North American railway industry, including BNSF Executive Chairman Matt Rose. Dracup expects the market for LNG tenders and locomotives to remain small scale in 2014-15 as initial pilot projects take place, but for these pilots to expand to orders for 25-to-100 units in 2016, and larger orders for 100-to-300 tenders or more in 2017.

He adds that, in his opinion, due to the structure of a market in which only seven Class I’s now operate compared with over 100 during the steam era, the widespread adoption of LNG could happen much faster than the 20 years it took for a complete switch from steam to diesel.

But Dracup does not expect HPDI locomotives to be commercially available until at least 2017. He says that due to the average life of locomotives, retrofits to existing units will be more common initially before the adoption of locomotives built specifically for LNG utilization.

“Dual-fuel technology is the right technology in the beginning,” Dracup says. “It is an interim technology designed to familiarize the Class I railroads with the new fuel to provide peace of mind before the major investment that will initiate the complete switchover. The risk-free demonstrations with dual-fuel locomotives that we are seeing now are intended for the railroads to get comfortable with natural gas, and to develop the infrastructure to accommodate it. When they have reached this point we will then be ready to enter with the HPDI technology.”

EMD is a subsidiary of Progress Rail Services.

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